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The Legend of the 117-Year-Old Greek Who Grew New Hair and Teeth

117 year old
Greece’s famed Ikaria island, where people routinely live into their 90s and one made it to 117 years of age. Credit: de:User:Man77 /Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

A 117-year-old woman grew seven new teeth and a head of black hair in the 1950s on Greece’s famed Ikaria island, where residents are famed for their longevity. At least, that’s what happened according to legend on the island. The great-grandson of this legendary woman continues to relate this story today.

Ikaria: a “Blue Zone” of longevity

Ikaria, a beautiful island located in the eastern Aegean, may look like any number of other Greek isles, but there is one vital difference: people there live much longer than the population on the mainland—or even on other Greek islands.

In fact, people there live on average ten years longer than those in the rest of Europe and the US. Approximately one in three Ikarians lives into their nineties.

Ikaria, which is named after Icarus, the young man in Greek mythology who flew too close to the sun and plunged into the sea, is one of the five so-called “Blue Zones,” a name given to five regions in the world where people routinely surpass average global life expectancies.

The other areas are Sardinia; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, in Costa Rica; and Loma Linda, California in the United States.

117 year old from Ikaria lived long despite life of hardship

The woman who figures in the legend, named Fani Gerali, lived in the village called Christos Raches in Ikaria and purportedly not only lived until 117 years of age but also remained extremely youthful.

She stayed so youthful, in fact, that legend has it that after the age of 100, she started sprouting new hair and teeth. Her new hair was black, not gray, and she grew seven new teeth. This added to her generally chipper and youthful demeanor.

A newspaper article from the 1950s reports on the 117-year-old

According to her great-grandson, Gerali never acted her age. She was talkative and continued gardening until the very day she died—which did not occur due to natural causes. She was unfortunately stung by bees in her garden, which led to her unfortunate death.

Her life in Christos Raches was very engaging socially, as well, as she was surprisingly surrounded by peers—not the norm when most people reach extremely advanced ages. Due to Ikaria’s “Blue Zone” status, Gerali lived alongside other people who ranged from 103 to 117 years old!

These elderly residents led normal lives, going to church every week and celebrating their longevity with friends and families.

Gerali continued to have excellent vision and hearing well into her old age and retained memories of her life. Of course, her life had been quite difficult to forget, considering all she had been through.

She had been born in Asia Minor, where she married, had children, and eventually became widowed. She was forced to flee Asia Minor in 1914 due to the Ottoman Empire’s brutal expulsion of Greek residents at the time.

Gerali settled in Chios and was eventually asked for her hand in marriage at the age of 77—which she refused. Tragically, her son was killed in 1944 in Elefsina by German soldiers.

Her life—and unbelievable regeneration—was documented in a 1954 newspaper story on Ikaria island.

Although her life seems marred by hardship by our current standards, her old age seems to have been fairly pleasant, and it certainly was a long and remarkable one.

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