Longevity myths are traditions about long-lived people (generally supercentenarians), either as individuals or groups of people, and practices that have been believed to confer longevity, but for which scientific evidence does not support the ages claimed or the reasons for the claims. While literal interpretations of such myths may appear to indicate extraordinarily long lifespans, many scholars believe such figures may be the result of incorrect translation of numbering systems through various languages coupled with the cultural and/or symbolic significance of certain numbers.
The phrase "longevity tradition" may include "purifications, rituals, longevity practices, meditations, and alchemy" that have been believed to confer greater human longevity, especially in Chinese culture.
Outside of mythology, the record for the maximum verified lifespan in the modern world is 122+1⁄2 years for women (Jeanne Calment) and 116 years for men (Jiroemon Kimura). Some scientists estimate that in case of the most ideal conditions people can live up to 127 years. This does not exclude the theoretical possibility that in the case of a fortunate combination of mutations there could be a person who lives longer. Though the lifespan of people is one of the longest in nature, there are animals that live longer. For example, some individuals of the Galapagos tortoise are able to live more than 175 years, and some individuals of the bowhead whale more than 200 years. Some scientists cautiously suggest that the human body can have sufficient resources to live up to 150 years.
Extreme longevity claims in religion
Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)
Some apologists explain these extreme ages as ancient mistranslations that converted the word "month" to "year", mistaking lunar cycles for solar ones: this would turn an age of 969 years into a more reasonable 969 lunar months, or about 78.3 solar years.
Donald Etz says that the Genesis 5 numbers were multiplied by ten by a later editor. These interpretations introduce an inconsistency: it would mean that the ages of the first nine patriarchs at fatherhood, ranging from 62 to 230 years in the manuscripts, would then be transformed into an implausible range such as 5 to 18+1⁄2 years. Others say that the first list, of only 10 names for 1,656 years, may contain generational gaps, which would have been represented by the lengthy lifetimes attributed to the patriarchs. Nineteenth-century critic Vincent Goehlert suggests the lifetimes "represented epochs merely, to which were given the names of the personages especially prominent in such epochs, who, in consequence of their comparatively long lives, were able to acquire an exalted influence".
Those biblical scholars that teach literal interpretation give explanations for the advanced ages of the early patriarchs. In one view, man was originally to have everlasting life, but as sin was introduced into the world by Adam, its influence became greater with each generation and God progressively shortened man's life. In a second view, before Noah's flood, a "firmament" over the earth (Genesis 1:6–8) contributed to people's advanced ages.
- Scolastica Oliveri is said to have lived in Bivona, Italy, 1448–1578 (age 129–130), according to the archive of Monastero di San Paolo in Bivona located in Palermo.
- Around 1912, the Maharishi of Kailash was said by missionary Sadhu Sundar Singh to be an over-300-year-old Christian hermit in a Himalayan mountain cave with whom he spent some time in deep fellowship. Singh said the Maharishi was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and baptized by the nephew of St. Francis Xavier.
Chapter 2 of Falun Gong by Li Hongzhi (2001) states, "A person in Japan named Mitsu Taira lived to be 242 years old. During the Tang Dynasty in our country, there was a monk called Hui Zhao [慧昭, 526–815] who lived to be 290 [288–289] years old. According to the county annals of Yong Tai in Fujian Province, Chen Jun [陈俊] was born in the first year of Zhong He time (881 AD) under the reign of Emperor Xi Zong during the Tang Dynasty. He died in the Tai Ding time of the Yuan Dynasty (1324 AD), after living for 443 years."
- Hindu god Krishna is said to have lived for 125 years and 8 months from 3228 BCE to 3102 BCE. According to Hindu scriptures, the age of Kaliyuga began after he ascended to his abode Vaikuntha.
- Trailanga Swami reportedly lived in Kashi since 1737; the journal Prabuddha Bharata puts his birth around 1607 (age 279–280), upon his death in 1887. His birth is also given as 1527 (age 359–360).[need quotation to verify]
- The sadhaka Lokenath Brahmachari reportedly lived 1730–1890 (age 159–160).
- Shivapuri Baba, also known as Swami Govindanath Bharati, was a Hindu saint who purportedly lived from 1826 to 1963, making him allegedly 136–137 years old at the time of his death. He had 18 audiences with Queen Victoria.
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Ibrahim (إِبْرَاهِيم) was said to have lived to 168–169 years. His wife Sarah is the only woman in the Old Testament whose age is given. She was 127 (Genesis 23:1). In Quran Noah had allegedly lived for 950 years with his people (https://quran.com/29/14)
Extreme lifespans are ascribed to the Tirthankaras, for instance:
- Neminatha was said to have lived for over 10,000 years before his ascension,
- Naminatha was said to have lived for over 20,000 years before his ascension,
- Munisuvrata was said to have lived for over 30,000 years before his ascension,
- Māllīnātha was said to have lived for over 56,000 years before his ascension,
- Aranatha was said to have lived for over 84,000 years before his ascension,
- Kunthunatha was said to have lived for over 200,000 years before his ascension,
- Shantinatha was said to have lived for over 800,000 years before his ascension,
- Dharmanatha was said to have lived for over 2,500,000 years before his ascension,
- Anantanatha was said to have lived for over 3,500,000 years before his ascension,
- Vimalanatha was said to have lived for over 6,000,000 years before his ascension,
- Vasupujya was said to have lived for over 7,200,000 years before his ascension,
- Shreyansanatha was said to have lived for over 8,400,000 years before his ascension.
- Babaji is said to be an "Unascended Master" purportedly many centuries old and is claimed to live in the Himalayas. The Hindu guru Paramhansa Yogananda claimed to have met him and was supposedly one of his disciples.
Ancient extreme longevity claims
- Fu Xi (伏羲) was supposed to have lived for 197 years.
- Lucian wrote about the "Seres" (a Chinese people), claiming they lived for over 300 years.
- Zuo Ci who lived during the Three Kingdoms Period was said to have lived for 300 years.
- In Chinese legend, Peng Zu was believed to have lived for over 800 years during the Yin Dynasty (殷朝, 16th to 11th centuries BC).
- The Yellow Emperor was said to have lived for 113 years.
- Emperor Yao was said to have lived for 118 years.
- Emperor Shun was said to have lived for 110 years.
- The Eight Immortals are said to have lived for over 14,000 years, and are supposedly still alive.
A book Macrobii ("Long-Livers") is a work devoted to longevity. It was attributed to the ancient Greek author Lucian, although it is now accepted that he could not have written it. Most examples given in it are lifespans of 80 to 100 years, but some are much longer:
- Tiresias, the blind seer of Thebes, over 600 years.
- Nestor, over 300 years.
- Members of the "Seres" (a Chinese people), over 300 years.
- Emperor Jimmu (traditionally, 13 February 711 BC – 11 March 585 BC) lived 126 years according to the Kojiki. These dates correspond to 125 years, 339 days, on the proleptic Julian and Gregorian calendars. However, the form of his posthumous name suggests that it was invented in the reign of Kanmu (781–806), or possibly during the time in which legends about the origins of the Yamato dynasty were compiled into the Kojiki.
- Emperor Kōan, according to Nihon Shoki, lived 137 years (from 427 BC to 291 BC).
- Dangun, the first ruler of Korea, is said to have been born in 2333 BCE and to have died in 425 BCE at the age of 1,908 years.
- Taejo of Goguryeo (46/47 – 165) is claimed to have reigned in Korea for 93 years beginning at age 7. After his retirement, the Samguk Sagi and Samguk Yusa give his age at death as 118, while the Book of the Later Han states he died in 121 at age 74.
- Zahhak, 1,000 years.
- Jamshid, 700 years.
- Fereydun, 500 years.
- Askani, 200 years.
- Kay Kāvus, 150 years.
- Manuchehr, 120 years.
- Lohrasp, 120 years.
- Goshtasp, 120 years.
In Roman times, Pliny wrote about longevity records from the census carried out in 74 AD under Vespasian. In one region of Italy many people allegedly lived past 100; four were said to be 130, others up to 140.
In the only ten-king tablet recension of this list three kings (Alalngar, [...]kidunnu, and En-men-dur-ana) are recorded as having reigned 72,000 years together. The major recension assigns 43,200 years to the reign of En-men-lu-ana, and 36,000 years each to those of Alalngar and Dumuzid.
- Kinh Dương Vương, the first King of Vietnam, is said to be born in 2919 BC and died in 2792 BC (aged about 127 years).
- Lạc Long Quân reigned from 2793 BC to 2524 BC (about 269 years).
- Welsh bard Llywarch Hen (Heroic Elegies) died c. 500 in the parish of Llanvor, traditionally about age 150.
- Edgar Ætheling, English prince who was briefly King of England after the death of Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings in late 1066. Edgar is said to have died shortly after 1126, when William of Malmesbury wrote that he "now grows old in the country in privacy and quiet". However, two pipe rolls exist from the years 1158 and 1167 which list Edgar. The historian Edward Augustus Freeman stated that this referred either to Edgar (aged at least 115), to a son of his, or to another person who bore the title Ætheling.
Modern extreme longevity claims
This list includes claims of longevity of 130 and older from the 14th century onward, all birth year and age claims are alleged unless stated otherwise.
|Colestein Veglin||1259–1261[a]||Unknown||617[b]||United States|
|Thomas Cam||1381||1588||207||United Kingdom|
|Ashura Omarova||1775[c]||Unknown||195[b]||Russian Empire|
|Josefa Molina Lantz||1831||2006||175||Venezuela|
|Chesten Marchant||1511||1676||164||United Kingdom|
|Joseph Surrington||1637||1797||159–160||United Kingdom|
|Opanyin Kwaku Addae||1852–1853[e]||Unknown||159[b]||Ghana|
|Thomas Damme||1494–1495||1649||154||United Kingdom|
|Mohammed bin Zarei||1858–1859||2013||154||Saudi Arabia|
|Thomas Newman||1388–1389||1542||153||United Kingdom|
|Mohammed bin Masoud||1861||2014||153||Oman|
|Gabriel Umeh Enemuo||1864–1865||2015||151||Nigeria|
|Ali Al-Alakmi||1871–1872||2018||147||Saudi Arabia|
|Mrs. Eckleston||1548||1691||143||United Kingdom|
|Abdel Wali Numan||1865||2007||142[f]||Yemen|
|Ali bin Abdullah bin Ezab||1866||2006||140||United Arab Emirates|
|Margaret Patten||1601–1602||1739||137||United Kingdom|
|Bashir Al Saalmi||1873–1874||2010||137||Oman|
|James James||1752||1888||135||United States|
|Maritina Vangatala||1879||Unknown||135[b]||Solomon Islands|
|Alhaji Abdu Sikola||1880–1881||2015||135||Nigeria|
|Anton Pilya||1830–1831||1965||135||Russian Empire|
|Moloko Temo||1874||2009||134||South Africa|
|Johanna Ramatse||1883||2017||134||South Africa|
|Mzee Barnabas Kiptanui Arap Rop||1879||2012||133[g]||Kenya|
|Antisa Khvichava||1880||2012||132||Russian Empire|
|Sarhat Rashidova||1875||2007||131||Russian Empire|
|Ajko Omerovitch||1804–1805||1934||130||Ottoman Empire|
Kingdom of Yugoslavia
|Maria Olivia da Silva||1880||2010||130||Brazil|
The following cases have been documented in detail over time.
|Li Ching-Yuen||1736 - claimed
1677 - disputed
Republic of China
|A New York Times story announced the death on 5 May 1933 in Kai Xian, Sichuan, at the age of 197, of the Republic of China's Li Ching-Yuen (李青云, Li Qing Yun), who claimed to be born in 1736. A Time article noted that "respectful Chinese preferred to think" Li was 150 in 1827 (birth 1677), based on a government congratulatory message, and died at age 256. T'ai chi ch'uan master Da Liu stated that Li learned qigong from a hermit over age 500.|
|Peter Czartan||1539||1724||184||Hungary||Charles Hulbert, who reported Czartan's case in an 1825 collection, added that John (172) and his wife Sara (164) both died in Hungary in 1741 after 148 years of marriage. The Book Validation of Exceptional Longevity has the old couples last name as Rowin, while The Virgin Birth And The Incarnation puts John and Sara's married name as Rovin.|
|Henry Jenkins||1501||1670||169||England||A brief biography of Henry Jenkins, of Ellerton-on-Swale, Yorkshire, was written by Anne Saville in 1663 based on Jenkins's description, stating birth in 1501; he also claimed to recall the 1513 Battle of Flodden Field. However, Jenkins also testified in 1667, in favor of Charles Anthony in a court case against Calvert Smythson, that he was then only 157 or thereabouts. He was born in Bolton-on-Swale, and the date given, 17 May 1500, results in only a 1-year discrepancy with the age of 169 on his monument (he died 8 December 1670).|
|Shirali Muslimov||1805||1973||168||Russian Empire,
|An Azerbaijani shepherd of Talysh ethnicity from the village of Barzavu in the Lerik region of Azerbaijan, a mountainous area near the Iranian border. He claimed to be the oldest person who ever lived when he died on September 2, 1973 at the alleged age of 168 years and 162 days, based solely on a passport. National Geographic carried the claim. Some sources claimed him to be the oldest centenarian in the USSR. It was reported that at the moment of Muslimov's death, his wife was still living at 120 years of age.|
|Javier Pereira||1789||1955–58||165–169||Colombia||A Zenú Indian from Colombia who was reputedly over 160 years old at the time of his death. Although his death is variously said to have been in 1955, 1956, and 1958, sources all claim that he was born in 1789.|
|Zaro Aga||1764||1934||170||Ottoman Empire||Kurdish man who claimed birth on February 16, 1764, and died on June 29, 1934 in Istanbul, Turkey at the alleged age of 170.|
|Thomas Parr||1482–1483||1635||152||England||The case was recorded in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. William Harvey carried out a postmortem on him, according to Easton. Parr is buried in Westminster Abbey with his alleged age on the gravestone.|
|Mbah Gotho||1870||2017||146||Dutch East Indies,
|In May 2010, Solopos reported that census enumerators recorded that Saparman Sodimejo, known more commonly as Mbah Gotho, was 142 years old. Liputan 6 reported that his estimated age was 140, and that he could not remember his date of birth but claimed to remember the construction of a sugar factory in Sragen in 1880. His ID card, issued in 2014, displays his claimed birth date of 31 December 1870. A heavy smoker throughout his life, he allegedly outlived ten siblings, four wives and all five of his children. On 28 April 2017 he was admitted to RSUD Hospital in Sragen, where he died on 30 April.|
|Bir Narayan Chaudhary||1856||1998||141–142||Nepal||Bir claimed he was born in 1856, the son of a landowner. A cattle rancher in the village of Khanar, near Biratnagar, he was purportedly a leader of the first land survey team in the area, conducted in 1888. He was a smoker throughout his later life. Bir rose to prominence in the mid-1990s when Nepalese television and press began reporting on his claimed age. In 1997, he was honored by Nepal's King Birendra for his claimed longevity.|
|Mubarak Rahmani Messe||1874||2014||140||Algeria||Died in 2014, allegedly at 140 years of age, in El Oued Province, Algeria, and was survived by 100 grandsons. According to family members, Rahmani had spent much of his early life in the Algerian Desert and later held various challenging occupations, including in construction, farming and herding. He was hospitalised for the first time in 2012, with a stomach complaint. His diet, referred to as "natural", consisted largely of dates, wheat flour, sheep's milk, and green tea.|
|Habib Miyan||1869||2008||138||India||Rahim "Habib Miyan" Khan of Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, holds the Guinness World record for the Longest retirement pension. Miyan's claimed birth date derives from a family tree listing a Rahim Khan born in 1869, although his pension book listed his birth date as May 20, 1878. He said he had been using these documents since he was discharged from the army in 1938 to claim a pension, making him the world's longest-registered old-age pensioner. The Limca Book of Records lists him as the oldest man of Jaipur, describing him in its 2005 edition as "over 120 years". In 2004 two unidentified people donated money for Miyan to go to the Hajj, making him purportedly the oldest Hajj pilgrim in history. He was named as the Aab-e-Jaipur, ('Lustre of Jaipur') by the mayor of Jaipur.|
|Charlie Smith||1842||1979||136–137||United States||Prior to Smith's death, the Guinness Book of World Records had called his claim into question, noting that Smith's marriage certificate from 1910 stated that he was 35 years old at the time, which would make him 104 years old at the time of his death.|
|Tuti Yusupova||1880||2015||134||Russian Empire,
|Sylvester Magee||1841||1971||130||United States|
- The Assamese polymath Sankardev (1449–1568) allegedly lived to the age of 118.[h]
- Albrecht von Haller allegedly collected examples of 62 people ages 110–120, 29 ages 120–130, and 15 ages 130–140.
- A 1973 National Geographic article on longevity reported, as a very aged people, the Burusho–Hunza people in the Hunza Valley of the mountains of Pakistan.
- Swedish death registers contain detailed information on thousands of centenarians going back to 1749; the maximum age at death reported between 1751 and 1800 was 147.
- Cases of extreme longevity in the United Kingdom were listed by James Easton in 1799, who covered 1712 cases documented between 66 BC and 1799, the year of publication; Charles Hulbert also edited a book containing a list of cases in 1825.
- A periodical The Aesculapian Register, written by physicians and published in Philadelphia in 1824, listed a number of cases, including several purported to have lived over 130. The authors said the list was taken from the Dublin Magazine.
- Deaths officially reported in the Russian Empire in 1815 listed 1068 centenarians, including 246 supercentenarians (50 at age 120–155 and one even older). Time magazine considered that, by the Soviet Union, longevity had elevated to a state-supported "Methuselah cult". The USSR insisted on its citizens' unrivaled longevity by claiming 592 people (224 male, 368 female) over age 120 in a 15 January 1959 census and 100 citizens of the Russian SSR alone aged 120 to 156 in March 1960. According to the opinion of Time magazine, in Georgia such claims were fostered by Georgian-born Joseph Stalin's apparent hope that such longevity might rub off on him. Zhores A. Medvedev, who demonstrated that all 500-plus claims failed birth-record validation and other tests, said that Stalin "liked the idea that [other] Georgians lived to be 100".
- An early 1812 Russian Petersburgh Gazette reports a man between ages 200 and 225 in the diocese of Ekaterinoslaw (now Dnipro, Ukraine).
The idea that certain diets can lead to extraordinary longevity (ages beyond 130) is not new. In 1909, Élie Metchnikoff believed that drinking goat's milk could confer extraordinary longevity. The Hunza diet, supposedly practiced in an area of northern Pakistan, has been claimed to give people the ability to live to 140 or more, but such claims are regarded as apocryphal.
Traditions that have been believed to confer greater human longevity include alchemy.
- Nicolas Flamel (early 1330s – c. 1418) was a 14th-century scrivener who developed a reputation as alchemist and creator of an "elixir of life" that conferred immortality upon himself and his wife Perenelle. His arcanely inscribed tombstone is preserved at the Musée de Cluny in Paris.
- Fridericus (Ludovicus) Gualdus (Federico Gualdi), author of "Revelation of the True Chemical Wisdom", lived in Venice in the 1680s. His age was reported in a letter in a contemporary Dutch newspaper to be over 400. By some accounts, when asked about a portrait he carried, he said it was of himself, painted by Titian (who died in 1576), but gave no explanation and left Venice the following morning. By another account, Gualdus left Venice due to religious accusations and died in 1724. The "Compass der Weisen" alludes to him as still alive in 1782 and nearly 600 years old.
Fountain of Youth
The Fountain of Youth reputedly restores the youth of anyone who drinks of its waters. Herodotus attributes exceptional longevity to a fountain in the land of the Ethiopians. The lore of the Alexander Romance and of Al-Khidr describes such a fountain, and stories about the philosopher's stone, universal panaceas, and the elixir of life are widespread.
After the death of Juan Ponce de León, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés wrote in Historia General y Natural de las Indias (1535) that Ponce de León was looking for the waters of Bimini to cure his aging on the expedition that led to the European discovery of Florida.
- It was reported by the New York Times that Veglin was arrested on July 20, 1876.
- Last reported age
- The oldest woman in the USSR according to the Novosti Press Agency (1970) was supposed to have been Ashura Omarova from Daghestan, aged 195.
- Like most rural Ethiopians, Ebba did not possess a birth certificate and his age cannot, therefore, be verified.
- Opanyin was said to be 159 years old in 2011.
- The source used for Numan states he died at 140. This would mean that the information would have to come from 2005 and not a source dated from 2007.
- "Estimated" age
- The traditional date of Sankardev's birth, generally considered correct, is in the month of Ashwin-Kartika (October) 1449. Assuming the middle of October as his birthdate in that year, his life span was 118 years, 10 months and a few days.
- Ni, Maoshing (2006). Secrets of Longevity. Chronicle Books. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-8118-4949-4.
Chuan xiong ... has long been a key herb in the longevity tradition of China, prized for its powers to boost the immune system, activate blood circulation, and relieve pain.
- Fulder, Stephen (1983). An End to Ageing: Remedies for Life. Destiny Books. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-89281-044-4.
Taoist devotion to immortality is important to us for two reasons. The techniques may be of considerable value to our goal of a healthy old age, if we can understand and adapt them. Secondly, the Taoist longevity tradition has brought us many interesting remedies.
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