Scientists say they have found evidence that ancient humans started kissing around 4,500 years ago – 1,000 years earlier than previously thought.
Clay tablets, used in parts of the modern era Iraq And Syriasuggest that kissing was practiced in early Mesopotamian societies and may even have contributed to the spread of cold sores.
Researchers from the University of Copenhagen say they now believe kissing was common in many cultures rather than starting in one specific region.
This contradicts a previous hypothesis that the first evidence of human kissing on the lips came from a specific part of South Asia 3,500 years ago.
The evidence comes from clay tablets written in cuneiform script, a script used by human cultures in ancient Mesopotamia between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in present-day Iraq and Syria.
Among the tablets showing such a scene was a Babylonian clay model showing an erotic scene from 1800 BC, which appears to show the lips of a couple touching.
Dr Troels Pank Arboll, an expert in the history of medicine in Mesopotamia at the University of Copenhagen, said: “Several thousand of these clay tablets have survived to this day, and they contain clear examples that kissing was considered part of romantic intimacy at the time. ancient times, just as kissing could be part of friendships and family relationships.
“Therefore, kissing should not be seen as a custom that originated exclusively in one region and spread from there, but rather appears to have been practiced in multiple ancient cultures over many millennia.”
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Studies of bonobos and chimpanzees – humans’ closest living relatives – have shown that they kiss.
This suggests that the practice of kissing is a fundamental human behavior and explains why it can be found in all cultures, the scientists said.
The researchers also said kissing may have accidentally helped spread viruses such as herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), which causes cold sores.
From a large collection of Mesopotamian medical texts, they found that some of them “mention a disease whose symptoms are reminiscent of herpes simplex virus 1,” Dr. Arboll said.
But he added that ancient medical texts can be influenced by cultural and religious concepts, so they cannot be read literally.
Dr Arboll said the team had found similarities between the disease known as buʾshanu in ancient medical texts from Mesopotamia and the symptoms caused by herpes simplex infections.
He said: “Bu’shanu disease was mainly localized in or around the mouth and throat, and symptoms included blisters in or around the mouth, which is one of the prominent signs of infection with herpes.”