Unraveling the Origins of the Romantic Kiss
The memory of our first kiss is often etched in our minds, but have you ever wondered when this intimate act became a part of romantic relationships? Prepare to be surprised, as a groundbreaking discovery by a husband and wife research team sheds new light on the origins of kissing. According to their findings, the earliest evidence of romantic kissing can be traced back a staggering 4,500 years ago—1,000 years earlier than previously believed.
Unlocking the Secrets of Mesopotamia
This remarkable revelation comes from the collaborative efforts of scholars at the University of Copenhagen and the University of Oxford. Their study focused on ancient Mesopotamia, the region encompassing present-day Iraq and Syria, where they examined a collection of clay tablets. Delving into the depths of Mesopotamian society, the researchers unearthed captivating evidence of kissing in the literature of several civilizations.
Challenging Prevailing Notions
Historians had long held the view that the practice of kissing originated in South Asia roughly 3,500 years ago before spreading to other parts of the world. This assumption was primarily based on references to kissing found in Sanskrit texts from the Indian subcontinent. However, the newly discovered Mesopotamian clay tablets, inscribed with cuneiform script, painted a different picture. The tablets, dating back to 2,500 BCE, revealed two distinct categories of kissing: one associated with “friendly and familial affection” and the other denoting “erotic action.” These tablets firmly establish that kissing held a prominent place in intimate relationships during ancient times. As co-author Troels Pank Arbøll remarked, “kissing was considered a part of romantic intimacy in ancient times, just as kissing could be part of friendships and family members’ relations.”
The Elusive Origins
While the research team has undeniably pushed the timeline of kissing further back in history, they caution against pinpointing its exact beginnings. The prevalence of references to kissing across various Mesopotamian societies suggests that the practice was not confined to a single location before spreading elsewhere. Instead, it is plausible to believe that multiple ancient cultures independently engaged in kissing. Mesopotamian writing, initially employed for administrative purposes, gradually expanded its scope to encompass myths, stories, and personal writings, revealing the multifaceted nature of human interaction.
Traces of an Ancient Virus
The investigation into the early history of kissing uncovered another intriguing detail: references to a medical condition called “bu’shanu” in ancient texts. Researchers hypothesize that “bu’shanu” could be linked to what we now recognize as cold sores, caused by the herpes simplex virus 1. The contagious nature of this ailment suggests that kissing might have played a role in its transmission during ancient times.
Not Exclusively Human
While the Mesopotamian clay tablets provide the earliest recorded evidence of kissing, it is important to note that the origins of this behavior extend beyond our species. Studies on bonobos and chimpanzees, our closest living relatives, have revealed that they also engage in kissing-like behavior. This observation points towards kissing as a fundamental behavior, which might explain its prevalence across diverse cultures. Furthermore, intriguing evidence gleaned from the analysis of Neanderthal tooth plaque raises the possibility that even our ancient cousins, the Neanderthals, might have engaged in kissing.
However, not all scientists agree on the origins of kissing. William Jankowiak’s research on hunter-gatherer societies conducted in 2015 failed to find evidence of kissing among these groups. Jankowiak proposed that kissing emerged among societal elites who had the luxury of pursuing pleasure over survival concerns. These contrasting views add an extra layer of intrigue to the ongoing investigation into