The world’s oldest person, Lucile Randon, has died at the age of 118, meaning the oldest person alive on Earth in 2023 is Catalonian supercentenarian María Branyas Morera. Meanwhile, officially, the world’s oldest person ever to have lived was Jeanne Calment, also of France, who died at 122 – despite claims that others have lived to 135, 157 or even 900+.
Every time the title of oldest living person transfers from one person to another, curiosity surrounding claims of longevity ramps up.
So it is that we read about Zaro Aga, the Turkish-Kurd who, according to some, died at the age of 170; Almihan Seyiti, from Xinjiang in Western China, who some believe died at the age of 135 in 2021; and an Indonesian woman known as Turinah, who reportedly believed herself to be 157 years old when her country conducted its 2010 census.
Who are these people? Do their claims add up? What of claims that the world’s oldest person ever was actually 135, 146, 157, or even 399? And what are we to believe when there are people who claim to have been hundreds of years old – in the Bible, no less?
Who is Zaro Aga, supposedly once the oldest person in the world, age 157?
Born in Medan (now Meydan) in what was then the autonomous Kurdish emirate of Bitlis, in the Ottoman Empire, Zaro Aga was a construction worker in his youth.
He claimed to have met Napoleon, fought in no fewer than six wars, and to have participated in the Battle of Plevna at the age of 100.
Aga supposedly married either 11 or 12 times – he wasn’t sure – and bore many children. Naturally, there is some debate as to his actual age when he died.
His death certificate claims that Zaro Aga was 157 at time of death, which would have made him the oldest person in the world, ever. He died in Istanbul. However, a report published in 1939 cast doubt on the claim that the had been 157 years old, arguing instead that, rather than 157, he was 97.
‘300-year-old woman discovered in Pakistan’ in 2021
In September 2021, Twitter account Terror Alarm posted a short video of an elderly woman it claimed was the oldest person in the world – by some margin – at the age of 300.
The Namal was quick to call the claims “false.”
At the time, according to Guinness World Record, the world’s oldest person was Kane Tanaka, of Japan, not a 300-year-old Pakistani woman.
It is no mean feat to prove or disprove someone’s age. Authorities only have the authority of other authorities to go by. And when the main authority is the person themselves, the most logical thing to do might be to hold the claim up to the light of scientific reason.
Rumors of a 399-year-old woman and deaths of people age ‘135’ and ‘146’
In early 2022, Marca reported on a string of videos and reports claiming a particular Buddhist monk by the name of Luang Pho Yai, or Lung Ta, was 399 years old.
Or that he was 169 years old. Either way, he was older than Zaro Aga, who others claimed to have been the world’s oldest person ever, at 157. His granddaughter had shared videos of him under the handle @auyary13.
Meanwhile, in May 2017, the BBC reported on the death of an Indonesian man from Central Java. According to his papers, Sodimedjo, also known as grandpa Ghoto, was born in December 1870, allegedly making him 146 when he died.
Not to be outdone, the New York Post reported that the world’s “oldest person ever” had died at the age of 135 – not quite 500 or 399, or even 157 – in Xinjiang.
We could start living biblical lifespans within our lifetimes
The Bible is full of examples of humans that supposedly lived to seemingly impossible ages. Methuselah was the oldest, ascending to heaven at the age of 969. But he was hardly unique.
Abraham’s ancestors were all old. Adam died at the age of 930; Seth was 912; Enos, Kenan, Jared and Noah all surpassed 900; Mahalalel almost died, dying five years shy of the mark; and even Lamech lived to be 777.
Obviously, if you take these claims literally, they are absurd. And they are just the first hurdle for many when it comes to believing the contents of the book.
But there are those who believe that some people living today could live to be 1,000 years old. The pace of innovation is explosive, and progress is hard to predict. But as scientists better understand the ageing process, there may be ways to mitigate it, wrote David Goldhill for The Independent in 2018.
In other words, some people believe that, by the year 2100, the world’s oldest person might be older than 135, older than 157 – older, even, than 300.