There are certain places in the world where people tend to longer than average, places like the Greek island, Icaria, the Island of Long Life, that are called “Blue Zones,” where the lifespan is about a decade longer than anywhere else. Have these people learned some secret to longevity that remains a mystery to the rest of us? Are they genetically predisposed toward a longer life? Is it the food they eat?
Why Do They Live So Long?
There’s no real, scientifically documented Fountain of Youth, despite the tiny spring in St. Augustine, Florida, that’s supposed to be the legendary living waters discovered by the Spanish explorer, Ponce de Leon. Some say the secret to a long life is good diet and exercise. Excellent medical care may have something to do with extremely long life. Biblical scholars will tell you that obeying a certain law will extend your life: “Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long.” (Exodus 20:12)
In ancient civilization, both Biblical and other historical records, such as the Sumerian Kings List, list lifespans in the hundreds of years. In fact, it is a very well-known Biblical fact that the Oldest Man to Ever Live was Methuselah, who lived to be 969 years old. (He must have really revered his parents.)
The World’s Ten Oldest People (Modern Times)
Although I personally have no doubt that Methuselah’s age is completely verified by Biblical text, more contemporary scholars have devised specific methods of verifying the ages of modern super-centerians. Claims of great age are validated by international longevity research institutes such as GRG, Gerontology Research Group, and Guinness World Records. The following list provides verified information concerning the ten oldest people to live in contemporary history.
#10 Maggie Barnes:
Age: 115 years, 319 days
Maggie Pauline Hinnant Barnes was born the child of a slave in Johnston County, North Carolina, United States on March 6, 1882, according to the Hinnant family Bible. This is the date verified in ascertaining her age, although other records indicate she may actually have been earlier than this: the 1900 U.S. Census lists her birth in 1881, and her marriage license indicates she was born in 1880. Maggie Barnes died on January 19, 1998 from complications arising from an infection in her foot. She’d been mother to a total of 15 children, and outlived eleven of them.
#9 Jiroemon Kimura
Age: 116 years, 54 days
Jiroemon Kimura is a special member of our group of the Ten Oldest People, because he is the only male to have lived long enough to be included in this hallowed list. Jiroemon Kimura is the Verified Longest-Lived Man in Contemporary History. He was born Kinjiro Miyake on April 19, 1897 in Kyotango, Japan.
Miyake married a neighbor named Yae Kimura, and since her family had no male heir he changed his name to Kimura in order to continue her family’s legacy under local tradition. He worked as a postal worker for 45 years, then retired to become a farmer like his father for another 25 years. Jioremon Kimura died in a hospital in his hometown of natural causes on June 12, 2013.
#8 Besse Cooper
Age: 116 years, 100 days
Besse Berry Brown Cooper was born in Sullivan County, Tennessee, on August 26, 1896. She was a schoolteacher in Tennessee when she married Luther Cooper and moved with him to Between, Georgia, and raised a family of four children on their farm. Besse’s was famous as the World’s Oldest Living Person from June 21, 2011, until her death of natural causes on December 4, 2012. The Besse Brown Cooper Bridge was named in her honor in Between, Georgia, about six months before she passed on.
#7 Elizabeth Bolden
Age: 116 years, 118 days
Elizabeth “Lizzie” Jones Bolden was another long-lived Tennesse native, and her lifespan included three different centuries. Lizzie was born August 15, 1890, and she died December 11, 2006, having lived in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.
#6 Tane Ikai
Age: 116 years, 175 days
Tane Ikai was born January 18, 1879, in Kansei, Japan. She is the Verified Oldest Person from Japan, mother of four children, all of whom she outlived. She died of kidney failure on July 12, 1995.
#5 Maria Capovilla
Age: 116 years, 347 days
Maria Esther Heredia Lecaro de Capovilla was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on September 14, 1889. She also lived across three centuries and was the oldest person ever from the Southern Hemisphere.
#4 Marie-Louise Meilleur
Age: 117 years, 230 days
Marie-Louise Febronie Chasse Leclerc Meilleur was born August 29, 1880, in Kamouraska, Quebec, and is known for being the Oldest Validated Canadian Ever. During Marie-Louise’s lifetime she had two husbands, ten children, 85 grandchildren, 80 great-grandchildren, 57 great-great-grandchildren and 4 great-great-great-grandchildren at the time of her death of a blood clot on April 16, 1998.
#3 Lucy Hannah
Age: 117 years, 248 days
Born Lucy Terrel on July 16, 1875 in Linden, Alabama, United States, Lucy is known as the Oldest African-American on record. She came from a long-lived family, with two sisters that lived to 100 and her mother who lived to 99.
#2 Sarah Knauss
Age: 119 years, 97 days
Sarah Clark Knauss was born in a small coal-mining town called Hollywood, Pennsylvania, on September 24, 1880. She lived in Pennsylvania all her life, was a skilled seamstress, and mother of one daughter who herself lived to be 101. Speaking of her mother’s long life, daughter Kathryn stated that “she’s a very tranquil person.” Sarah Knauss is known as the Validated Oldest American Ever.
#1 Jeanne Calment
Age 122 years, 164 days
Jeanne Calment has the Longest Confirmed Lifespan in modern history, and is the only person to have lived beyond 120. She enjoyed a life of wealth and privilege, having grown up the daughter of a shipbuilder who then married her wealthy shop-owner second cousin (same last name.) She outlived her only child, raised her grandson, and enjoyed leisurely hobbies like tennis, piano and swimming.
During her later years, Jeanne also enjoyed her fame as the Oldest Living Person, appearing in a documentary film about her life and playing herself in a 1990 film, which made her the Oldest Person to Appear in a Motion Picture. She attributed her longevity to consuming olive oil, port wine and dark chocolate. She died of natural causes on August 4, 1997.
Jeanne Calment’s famous quote: “I’ve never had but one wrinkle, and I’m sitting on it.”