Newswise — New research has postulated that the initial indications of human lip kissing emerged 3,500 years ago in a highly precise South Asian area. It is believed that this practice subsequently disseminated to various regions, thereby concurrently hastening the transmission of herpes simplex virus 1.

As per the findings presented by Dr. Troels Pank Arbøll and Dr. Sophie Lund Rasmussen in a recent article published in the journal Science, they assert that based on an extensive examination of written sources from ancient Mesopotamian civilizations, the act of kissing had already become a firmly entrenched custom in the Middle East 4,500 years ago. Furthermore, their research suggests that kissing likely dates back even earlier, pushing back the documented evidence for this practice by 1,000 years compared to the previously accepted understanding within the scientific community.

Dr. Troels Pank Arbøll, an authority on the medical history of Mesopotamia, explains that the region, encompassing the area between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in present-day Iraq and Syria, was known as ancient Mesopotamia. The people of this civilization used cuneiform script to inscribe their writings on clay tablets. Numerous clay tablets have survived over time, providing clear evidence that kissing held significance as a component of romantic intimacy in ancient times, just as it could be observed within friendships and familial relationships.

He continues:

Hence, kissing ought not to be seen as a tradition that solely arose in one specific area and disseminated from it, but rather seems to have been engaged in by various ancient societies throughout numerous centuries.

Dr Sophie Lund Rasmussen adds:

Indeed, investigations into bonobos and chimpanzees, our nearest living kin, have revealed that both species partake in kissing. This observation implies that kissing could be an innate behavior in humans, elucidating its presence across diverse cultures.

Kissing as potential transmitter of disease

Alongside its significance in social and sexual interactions, the act of kissing may have inadvertently facilitated the transmission of microorganisms, potentially contributing to the spread of viruses among humans.

Nonetheless, the proposition that the act of kissing might be perceived as an abrupt biological catalyst for the transmission of specific pathogens is rather uncertain. The transmission of the herpes simplex virus 1, which scientists have proposed could have been expedited by the initiation of the kiss, serves as an illustrative example:

"Dr. Arbøll notes that there exists a significant collection of medical writings from Mesopotamia, a portion of which make reference to an ailment displaying symptoms resembling those of the herpes simplex virus 1."

He further emphasizes that the ancient medical texts were shaped by diverse cultural and religious ideas, underscoring the importance of not interpreting them literally.

"Nonetheless, it is intriguing to observe certain parallels between the ailment referred to as bu'shanu in ancient Mesopotamian medical texts and the symptoms associated with herpes simplex infections. The bu'shanu disease predominantly manifested in the oral and throat regions, displaying symptoms such as vesicles in or around the mouth, which aligns with one of the prominent indications of herpes infection."

"According to Dr. Rasmussen, if the act of kissing was prevalent and firmly established across various ancient societies, it can be inferred that the impact of kissing on pathogen transmission was likely relatively consistent."

Dr. Arbøll and Dr. Rasmussen reach the conclusion that forthcoming findings stemming from research on ancient DNA, which will inevitably prompt discussions on intricate historical advancements and social interactions, such as the role of kissing in early disease transmission, will greatly benefit from an interdisciplinary approach.

Read the article “The ancient history of kissing” in Science.

Journal Link: Science