Longevity myths or longevity traditions are myths and traditions about longevity. The phrase "longevity myth" refers to the tendency of most cultures to inflate the ages of elders, as a sociocultural artifact. Occasionally, "longevity myth" is also used its nontechnical sense). Longevity myths may also refer to "diets, drugs, alchemy, physical practices, and certainly also mental states" that have been believed to confer greater human longevity, especially in Oriental culture.
Prior to the nineteenth century, there was insufficient evidence to make knowable claims either for or against centenarian longevity. Even today, no fixed theoretical limit to human longevity is apparent. Studies in the biodemography of human longevity indicate a late-life mortality deceleration law: that death rates level off at advanced ages to a late-life mortality plateau. That is, there is no fixed upper limit to human longevity, or fixed maximal human lifespan. This law was first quantified in 1939, when researchers found that the one-year probability of death at advanced age asymptotically approaches a limit of 44% for women and 54% for men.
An essay appearing in many editions of the Guinness Book of World Records in the 1980s lists four categories of recent claims: "In late life, very old people often tend to advance their ages at the rate of about 17 years per decade .... Several celebrated super-centenarians (over 110 years) are believed to have been double lives (father and son, relations with the same names or successive bearers of a title) .... A number of instances have been commercially sponsored, while a fourth category of recent claims are those made for political ends ...."
Guinness implies other (historical) categories of longevity traditions to exist as well. Actuary Walter G. Bowerman states that longevity assertions originate mainly in remote, underdeveloped regions, among illiterate peoples, evidenced by nothing more than family testimony.
The patriarchal myths link humans to God or the gods.In many cases, the ages of these patriarchs are unrealistically exaggerated in order to extend a genealogy back into the past and bring it closer to the creation of the world or some other significant mythic landmark.
Extreme ages were typical in Sumerian genealogies; age claims were often rounded to the nearest 3,600 years. Documenting groups of people who had lived for hundreds of years was common in Sumer as well as the Indus Valley.
- Three kings are recorded as having reigned 72,000 years each.
- The Sumerian King List assigns 43,200 years to the reign of En-men-lu-ana, and 36,000 years each to those of Alalngar and Dumuzid.
Template:Sumerian King List The reigns in the Sumerian king list change in their average value every time the kingship moved from one city-state to another. This has been explained by the fact each city-state of Mesopotamia had a different number system than its neighbors and there were usually multiple number systems used for different purposes within each city-state. These various number systems were later standarized in a common sexagesimal system.
The Biblical upper limit of longevity has been categorized by Bible student Witness Lee as having four successive plateaus of 1,000, 500, 250, and finally 120 years. The Torah claims several individuals with long lifespans. Some of the more notable include:
- Methuselah, 969 ( ), or 720 in the Samaritan Pentateuch.
- Noah, 950.
- Adam, the first man, 930.
- Jared, 962
- Seth, 912.
Biblical apologists that assert literal translation give explanations for the advanced ages of the early patriarchs: in this view, first, man was originally to have everlasting life, but as sin was introduced into the world by Adam and Eve, its influence became greater with each generation and God progressively shortened man's life; "four falls of mankind" (according to Witness Lee) correspond to four observable plateaus in longevity upper limits. Second, before Noah's flood, a "firmament" over the earth ( ) could have greatly contributed to man's advanced age. Third, biological DNA damage may cause genetically accelerated aging; experimentation with lengthening telomeres on worms has yielded increased worm life spans by about 20% and this may slow aging at the cost of increasing cancer vulnerability.
Some literary critics 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 78½ years of the Metonic cycle. But for consistency, the ages of the first nine patriarchs at fatherhood, ranging from 62 to 230 years in the manuscripts, would then be transformed doubtfully into the range of 5 to 18½ years. Still 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.
The reigns of several shahs in the Shahnameh, an epic poem by Ferdowsi, are given as longer than a century:
- Zahhak, 1000 years.
- Jamshid, 700 years.
- Fereydun, 500 years.
- Askani, 200 years.
- Kay Kāvus, 150 years.
- Manuchehr, 120 years.
- Lohrasp, 120 years.
- Goshtasp, 120 years.
Some early emperors of Japan ruled for more than a century, according to the tradition documented in the Kojiki, such as Emperor Jimmu and Emperor Kōan. Recent studies support the view that eight emperors were invented to push the reign of Emperor Jimmu back in time to the epochal year 660 B.C.
- Emperor Jimmu (traditionally, 13 February 711 BC – 11 March 585 BC) lived 126 years according to the Kojiki. These dates correspond to 126 years, 27 days, on the proleptic Julian and Gregorian calendars. However, the form of his posthumous name suggests that it was regularized centuries after the lifetime attributed to him, possibly during the time in which legends about the origins of the Yamato dynasty were compiled into the Kojiki.
- Taejo of Goguryeo (47? – 165) is generally accepted as having 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.
In Chinese legend, Peng Zu was believed to have lived for 800 years, spanning part of the Yin Dynasty and the Zhou Dynasty.
In some religious traditions there are claims that, if one follows a certain philosophy or practice, one can become immortal or at least live to an extreme age. Some Taoists claimed to have lived to over 200 years; these claims were related to Taoist practice. Swami Bua inconsistently states his birth date, but generally claims to have been born around 1889.
Such claims seem to imply meditation leads to extreme longevity.
- Saint Servatius, bishop of Tongeren in continental Europe, was consecrated at the alleged age of 297, and is said to have lived for 375 years. This claim is based on attributing him as present during the life of Christ.
- Saint Shenouda the Archimandrite, a Coptic saint, is said to have lived 348-466 AD, reaching 118 years.
- Saint Kentigern, patron saint of Glasgow in Britain in the Middle Ages, died shortly after 600 at the alleged age of 185. Today his age is given as 85 rather than 185.
Traditions that have been believed to confer greater human longevity include "alchemy". The idea that humans could transform their own substance using techniques such as alchemy became popular during the 15th and 16th centuries.
The Fountain of Youth reputedly restores the youth of anyone who drinks of its waters. The New Testament, following older Jewish tradition, attributes healing to the Pool of Bethesda when the waters are "stirred" by an angel. 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 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.
Some traditions describe some natural source, potion, or other secret that provides healing and particularly longevity and youthful health (eternal youth). Unlike stories rooted in patriarchal, ancient, and communal beliefs, such traditions are anchored in individual wishes for longer and healthier lives. The desire to avoid death was exploited by charlatans and snake oil salesmen who sold potions that promised longevity. It was common to locate a very old person and then to claim that person as an example of successful use of the potion.
The village elder myth reflects a preliterate societal respect for aging, patriarchy, etc., that leads to exceptional age claims intended to venerate the oldest person in the village.
This is probably a reduced version of the patriarchal myth, which attributes longevity to a former era. Village elder stories suggest an understanding that persons in the immediate era do not generally attain the ages of the ancients, but that an exceptional claim on behalf of one village elder is culturally appropriate.
The stories originally centered on the tribal chieftain, but in locations of distributed societal power, an elderly woman began to be substituted as the central figure. The village elder represented a source of pride and of oral tradition, and a person to commemorate.
The ages claimed tend to be limited by credibility. Most such claims are for ages of less than 200 years old, with the majority in the range of 140 to 160. These popular tales continue to exist even today in places such as Bangladesh.
While Rome was a literate society for the upper class, many of the poorer and remote regions of the empire were not. Even in times when written records came into existence for the upper class in Ancient Rome, reports from the countryside continued the same pattern of overestimation of age.
Guinness estimates overadvancement of age by very old people to average 17 years per decade. The following cases illustrate how more reliable documentation has demonstrated overadvancements:
- Shirali Muslimov (26 March 1805? – 4 September 1973), of Barzavu, Azerbaijan, in the Caucasus mountains, was allegedly aged 168 years, 162 days, based solely on a passport. National Geographic carried the claim; it was later disproven by Zhores A. Medvedev.[not in citation given] This would place his birth in the Russian Empire.
- The Caucasus also claimed 500 people aged over 120; such claims were fostered by Georgian-born Stalin's apparent hope that he would live long past 70. Zhores A. Medvedev demonstrated that all 500 Caucasus claims failed birth-record validation and other tests.
- Walter Williams claimed to be a Confederate soldier aged 117 in 1959; research that year by New York Times reporter Lowell K. Bridwell indicated that Williams was then really 105. (In 1973 a woman claimed to be a Confederate widow at 117.)
- Sylvester Magee, allegedly 126, and Charlie Smith, allegedly 125, were featured by Time Magazine in 1967. Smith claimed an 1842 birth and died in 1979, but his marriage certificate indicated he lived only to 105, and the 1900 census indicated he lived only to 100.
Several supercentenarian claims are believed to constitute double lives, conflating father and son, relations with the same names, or successive bearers of a title.
- Thomas Parr (1483?-1635) was allegedly 152. According to P. Lüth, the results of Parr's autopsy by William Harvey (who believed the claim) suggest that Parr was probably under 70 years of age. It is possible that Parr's records were confused with those of his grandfather.
Nationalist pride often contributes to motivate traditions focusing on a particular nation. The nationalist outgrowth idea became widespread in the rise of nationalism in the 20th century. As popular ideas became focused on one nation versus another, extreme age claims became a source of national pride.
The 1970 U.S. census listed 106,000 people claiming to be 100 years old or older, some over 130. Longevity myths fell somewhat out of vogue in the later 1970s, when both American and Soviet experts came forward to debunk both sides.
RankBrasil, a Brazilian competitor of Guinness, has made several unsubstantiated claims.
- Maria Olivia da Silva (28 February 1880? - ), Template:Nts years, Template:Nts days.
- Maria do Carmo Geronimo (5 March 1871? - 14 July 2000), 129 years, 101 days.
- Ana Martinha da Silva (27 August 1880? - 27 July 2004), 123 years, 337 days.
- Rosalina Francisca da Silva (6 August 1886? - ), Template:Nts years, Template:Nts days.
- Joana Ribeiro da Silva (25 May 1888? - ), Template:Nts years, Template:Nts days.
- Chen Jun (陈俊) was said to have lived for 443 years in Yongtai county, Fujian province, being born in 881 and died in 1324.
- Lucian wrote about the "Seres" (a Chinese people), claiming they lived for 300 years.
- Hui Zhao was a monk said to have lived during the Tang dynasty to be 290 years old.
- A Time Magazine story announced the death in 1933 (on 6 May) of the Republic of China's Li Ching-Yuen (李青云, Li Qing Yun), who claimed to be born in 1736, age 197. The article noted that "respectful Chinese preferred to think" Li was 150 in 1827, based on a government congratulatory message, and died at age 256. This would place his birth in 1677 in Qing China.
- Still within the context of Marxist ideology but perhaps motivated more by nationalism, Du Pinhua of the People's Republic of China (22 April 1886? – 11 December 2006) was attributed a lifespan of 120 years, 233 days, perhaps to counter the relatively verified supercentenary claims of Japan's Kamato Hongo.
Javier Pereira, an aboriginal resident of Colombia, claimed to have been born in 1789. Time Magazine stated he was "generally considered the oldest man on earth". In 1956, in his only departure from Colombia, Pereira was examined by New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center physicians, who described him as "possibly ... more than 150 years old"; Ripley's Believe It or Not! also was associated with his claim. He died on March 30, 1958, in Monteria, Colombia, and was honored by a local postage stamp with the motto, "Don't worry. Drink coffee and smoke a good cigar." It was said that Pereira's age was determined by a dentist looking at his teeth.
In Cuba, local nationalism fueled unverified claims quite recently, such that the world's oldest man was claimed to be Benito Martínez. Recently, the fountain of youth myth was also invoked to explain Cuba's longevity.[Need quotation to verify]
- Thomas Carn (1381?-1588?) was allegedly 207.
- Femcath was according to records a person who lived in Britain to be 207 years old.
- A brief biography of Henry Jenkins (1501?-1670), of Ellerton[disambiguation needed], Yorkshire, was written by Anne Saville in 1663 based on Jenkins's description, which would give his age at death as 169; 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.
- Thomas Newman (1389?-1542) was allegedly 153.
Katherine Fitzgerald (1464?-1604), allegedly 140, had significant evidence of being at least centenarian.
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 even older. The ancient Greek author Lucian is the presumed author of Macrobii (long-livers), a work devoted to longevity. Most of the examples Lucian gives are what would be regarded as normal long lifespans (80-100 years).
- Tiresias, the blind seer of Thebes, was alive for 600 years (Lucian).
- Nestor lived three centuries (Lucian).
- Epimenides of Crete (7th, 6th centuries B.C.) is said to have lived 154, 157 or 290 years.
- South Africa
- Moloko Temo (4 July 1874? - 2 or 3 June 2009) died in South Africa at the alleged age of 134, which would put her birth in the Transvaal.
Time considered that the Soviets had elevated longevity to a state-supported "Methuselah cult".
- Sarhat Rashidova (1875? - 16 January 2007) died in Russia at the alleged age of 131, which would put her birth in the Russian Empire.
- In 2003, health officials in Chechnya declared that Zabani Khakimova was at least 124 years old; she died later in 2003.
- In 2004, The Moscow (Russia) Times reported that 122-year-old Pasikhat Dzhukalayeva, also of Chechnya, claimed to have been born in 1881, without a birthdate.
- Zaro Aga (1776? - 29 June 1934) died in Turkey at the alleged age of 157 years, which would put his birth in the Ottoman Empire.
A National Geographic article in 1973 treated with respect some longevity traditions like those of the high mountain valley of Vilcabamba, Ecuador, where locals had claimed ancestors' baptismal records as their own.
- A pensioner in Goust (a hamlet in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department of France) was reported in 1605 to have reached the age of 123.
The Okinawa diet has some reputation of linkage to exceptionally high ages. The tradition of Okinawan lifestyle being suitable to longevity has been lost lately, as demonstrated by comparison of 1995 and 2000 statistics; in a journal article, this tradition of lifestyle was called both "myth" and "fact".
- Mitsu Taira was said to have lived to be 242 years old.
Sadhu Sundar Singh, a 19th century Christian missionary to Tibet, said to have encountered an obscure hermit living in the Himalayan mountains, who claimed to be over 300 years of age.
The 1973 National Geographic article on longevity also reported, as a very aged people, the Burusho or Hunza people in the Hunza Valley of the mountains of Pakistan, without any documentary evidence being cited. Apparent age "heaping" suggested unreliability, because significantly often, the oldest ages ended in 0 or 5, indicating the ages were guesses, not real measurements.
- North Africa
Abd el Aziz el Habachi was a unique case of long life mentioned by the founder of the Senussi Order, and also mentioned by the Moroccan scholar El Kettani (1888-1962) in his report "fahres el Fahares". According to sources[who?] he was born in 581 of the Hegira (1185 AD), and was a pupil of Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (1372-1449) who claimed that Abd el Aziz was a 14th-generation descendant of the prophet Mohammed. He died in 1859 at the alleged age of 674 years. Other sources[who?] say that he was present during the founding of the city of Cairo in 969, in the reign of El Moez El Fatimi (952-975). It was also claimed that he was near 900 years old when he died in 1859, according to Abd el Hamid Bik (died 1863) in "Aalam el Machareka Wa al Magariba" ("The Famous Men of the East and the West").
An extension and adaptation of the fountain of youth concept is the idea that a person seeking extreme longevity needs to move to a special district that carries what is needed to attain extreme age. This story differs from the Fountain of Youth in that it focuses on an entire village, a mountain region, or a national treasure. Such a location can also be called a Shangri-La. "Shangri-La" is a fictional mountain area in the 20th-century novel Lost Horizon, which contained an entire village of long-lived or eternally lived people.
Ascribing unique longevity to a particular "village of centenarians" is common across many cultures. Many populations have reputations of producing unusual number of individuals with exceptionally high ages.[Need quotation to verify]
Other longevity myths are race-based or family-based, proposing unproven beliefs that a certain race or tribe tends to live longer than others. Many people tend naturally to believe that their own family members live a very long time.
In the "P. T. Barnum" longevity stories, one claims to be a great age to attract attention to oneself and/or to obtain money. Barnum himself exhibited Joice Heth as 161; her autopsy indicated she was under 80. The exhibitionist tradition was carried on by Robert L. Ripley, who regularly reported supercentenarian claims in Ripley's Believe It or Not!, usually citing his own reputation as a fact-checker to claim reliability. Ripley reported that:
- Yaupa (1769?-1899) of Futuna continued to work his farm at the age of 130.
- Horoz Ali of Cyprus lived to 120.
- Francisco Huppazoli (1587-1702) of Italy lived 114 years and fathered four children after age 98.
Despite the evidence of the extremes of verified modern longevity, stories in reliable sources still surface regularly, repeating longevity traditions stating that these limits have been exceeded, even at extremely unlikely odds.
The odd wire correspondent looking for a captivating filler reports extreme undocumented claims to this day: in early 2000, a Nepalese man claimed to have been born in 1832, citing as evidence a card issued in 1988. In December 2003, a Chinese news service claimed incorrectly that Guinness had recognized a woman in Saudi Arabia as being 131.
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