Humans have been kissing for a long time, according to an article published in the journal Science on Thursday.
Researchers studied cuneiform texts from ancient Mesopotamia in an effort to unlock the secrets behind smooching lips. These texts revealed that romantic kisses have been happening for 4,500 years in the ancient Middle East – not just 3,500 years ago, as a Bronze Age manuscript from South Asia had previously signaled, researchers claim.
Danish professors Troels Pank Arbøll and Sophie Lund Rasmussen found kissing in relation to sex, family and friendship in ancient Mesopotamia – now modern modern-day Iraq and Syria – was an ordinary part of everyday life.
Mothers and children kissed—friends too—but in reviewing cuneiform texts from these times, researchers found mating rituals shockingly similar to our current ones. Like us, our earlier ancestors were on the hunt for romance, and while researchers found kissing “was considered an ordinary part of romantic intimacy,” two texts, in particular, pointed to more complicated interactions.
These 1800 BCE texts show that society tried to regulate kissing activities between unwed people or adulterers. One text shows how a “married woman was almost led astray by a kiss from another man.” The second has an unmarried woman “swearing to avoid kissing” and having “sexual relations with a specific man.”
Texts also showed that since kissing was common, locking lips could have passed infectious diseases such as diphtheria and herpes simplex (HSV-1). Medical texts detailing illness and symptoms in Mesopotamia describe a disease named bu’šānu, in which sores appeared around the mouth and throat—similar symptoms to herpes.
Mesopotamians did not connect the spread of disease to kissing, but religious, social and cultural controls may have inadvertently contributed to lowering outbreaks, researchers found.
When a woman from the palace harem fell ill, people were instructed not to share her cup, sleep in her bed or sit in her chair.
The texts, however, didn’t mention people had to stop kissing.
Turns out, they never did.