Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


flores

Carmelo Flores Laura. (PHOTO: EPA)

World’s Oldest Living Human Found, Not in the Usual Place

• August 15, 2013 • 9:03 AM

Carmelo Flores Laura. (PHOTO: EPA)

Are freak longevity cases more about record-keeping than genetics, diet, or exercise?

Bolivian officials have found the oldest person ever recorded, Carmelo Flores Laura, believed to be 123. He lives in a farm town five hours from the capital La Paz and two hours from the nearest road, according to this BBC video report and this newspaper article (Spanish) from Bolivia’s La Razon. Details of his life are scarce so far, except that he was born in 1890. No clear explanation for his longevity has come to light—most of the story is about verifying his age, which has been done through baptism records. To judge from video and interviews, he’s pretty healthy and in good spirits. He doesn’t look a day over 97.

Particularly notable is that Flores Laura isn’t from North America, Europe, or Japan. According to Guinness, which tracks human age records, the overwhelming majority of extremely old people have come from those regions. The world’s oldest recorded person before today was a French woman who died in 1997 at 122 and a half. More recently, a Japanese man was considered the oldest living human until earlier this year, when he died at a relatively spry 116. By comparison, Flores Laura is an Aymara Indian from the Andes mountains, a rare example outside the geographic narrowness typical in these stories. What explains this? Has there really never been an unusually old person from the entire African continent? Is Carmelo Flores Laura really the first Latin American to live so long?

He seems to have avoided eating noodles, but ate complex carbs—quinoa’s good for you, just like it says on the box.

A theory: Rather than diet or exercise explaining ultra-longevity, the list of of super-elderly suffers from selection bias. The real story today looks to be the work of the Bolivian civil registry, which found Flores Laura in the first place, did some successful fact-checking, showed an interest in flagging an unusual life, and provided means to make noise about it. Is it really more likely that North Americans, Japanese, and a sliver of those from Europe really are biologically distinct from humanity in the most basic way? If so, that would explain why it’s so unusual to hear about the world’s oldest Indonesian, Kenyan, Romanian, or Afghan. But if that’s so, then Flores Laura, an Andean, would be even more remarkable than he is—he’s certainly not Japanese or European, biologically.

Or is a clerical explanation more likely? As anyone who has tried to construct a family genealogy knows, record-keeping from the late 19th and early 20th century can be awfully hard to track. Even in the Bolivian case, the La Paz civil registry official who spoke on camera to the BBC notes that their determination of Flores Laura’s age came from those church baptismal records—a civil registry didn’t yet exist in 1890, the presumed year of Flores Laura’s birth. Today’s news was a stroke of luck based on a decision by an Aymara family in 1890: no baptism, no birth record, no new “world’s oldest human.”

A glance at Flores Laura’s own family adds to the record keeping mystery. Speaking to reporters this week, Flores Laura claimed his wife only died a decade ago. (He added that he missed her; what do you get someone for an 80th anniversary?) Maybe he’s fuzzy on the dates; maybe his wife really died 20 or 30 years ago, when he was 93 or 103. But if he’s right, and if the couple were even remotely close in age, that would have put Mrs. Flores Laura north of 110 when she passed away. Not bad. How many more such cases are out there?

None of this is to take anything away from Flores Laura’s remarkable individual story. Unsurprisingly, he appears to have lived a life of healthy habits. The water in his high-mountain town comes from an Andean glacier. Though he served in the horrific 1933 Chaco War, he survived it and subsequently worked as a shepherd, which involved decades of daily walking at considerable altitude. He seems to have avoided eating noodles, but ate complex carbs—quinoa’s good for you, just like it says on the box.

Despite living cleanly he appears to have lived fully. He has 40 grandchildren. His favorite snack, according to several reports, is pork rinds.

Marc Herman

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 26 • 4:00 PM

Turmoil at JPMorgan

Examiners are reportedly blocked from doing their job as “London Whale” trades blow up.


November 26 • 2:00 PM

Rich Kids Are More Likely to Be Working for Dad

Nepotism is alive and well, especially for the well-off.


November 26 • 12:00 PM

How Do You Make a Living, Taxidermist?

Taxidermist Katie Innamorato talks to Noah Davis about learning her craft, seeing it become trendy, and the going-rate for a “Moss Fox.”


November 26 • 10:28 AM

Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals’ actions pile up quickly.


November 26 • 10:13 AM

Honeybees Touring America


November 26 • 10:00 AM

Understanding Money

In How to Speak Money, John Lanchester explains how the monied people talk about their mountains of cash.


November 26 • 8:00 AM

The Exponential Benefits of Eating Less

Eating less food—whole food and junk food, meat and plants, organic and conventional, GMO and non-GMO—would do a lot more than just better our personal health.


November 26 • 6:00 AM

The Incorruptible Bodies of Saints

Their figures were helped along by embalming, but, somehow, everyone forgot that part.


November 26 • 4:00 AM

The Geography of Real Estate Markets Is Shifting Under Our Feet

Policies aimed at unleashing supply in order to make housing more affordable are relying on outdated models.



November 25 • 4:00 PM

Is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Doing Enough to Monitor Wall Street?

Bank President William Dudley says supervision is stronger than ever, but Democratic senators are unconvinced: “You need to fix it, Mr. Dudley, or we need to get someone who will.”


November 25 • 3:30 PM

Cultural Activities Help Seniors Retain Health Literacy

New research finds a link between the ability to process health-related information and regular attendance at movies, plays, and concerts.


November 25 • 12:00 PM

Why Did Doctors Stop Giving Women Orgasms?

You can thank the rise of the vibrator for that, according to technology historian Rachel Maines.


November 25 • 10:08 AM

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.


November 25 • 10:00 AM

If It’s Yellow, Seriously, Let It Mellow

If you actually care about water and the future of the species, you’ll think twice about flushing.


November 25 • 8:00 AM

Sometimes You Should Just Say No to Surgery

The introduction of national thyroid cancer screening in South Korea led to a 15-fold increase in diagnoses and a corresponding explosion of operations—but no difference in mortality rates. This is a prime example of over-diagnosis that’s contributing to bloated health care costs.



November 25 • 6:00 AM

The Long War Between Highbrow and Lowbrow

Despise The Avengers? Loathe the snobs who despise The Avengers? You’re not the first.


November 25 • 4:00 AM

Are Women More Open to Sex Than They Admit?

New research questions the conventional wisdom that men overestimate women’s level of sexual interest in them.


November 25 • 2:00 AM

The Geography of Innovation, or, Why Almost All Japanese People Hate Root Beer

Innovation is not a product of population density, but of something else entirely.


November 24 • 4:00 PM

Federal Reserve Announces Sweeping Review of Its Big Bank Oversight

The Federal Reserve Board wants to look at whether the views of examiners are being heard by higher-ups.



November 24 • 2:00 PM

That Catcalling Video Is a Reminder of Why Research Methods Are So Important

If your methods aren’t sound then neither are your findings.


November 24 • 12:00 PM

Yes, Republicans Can Still Win the White House

If the economy in 2016 is where it was in 2012 or better, Democrats will likely retain the White House. If not, well….


November 24 • 11:36 AM

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it’s relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.


Follow us


Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals' actions pile up quickly.

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it's relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.