By examining clay tablets from Mesopotamia’s earliest societies, researchers say kissing was commonplace and did not start in a specific region. They believe it may even have contributed to the spread of herpes.
By Russell Hope, news reporter
Thursday, May 18, 2023, 19:14, UK
Scientists say they have found evidence that ancient people started kissing around 4,500 years ago – 1,000 years earlier than previously thought.
Clay tablets, used in some parts of the modern world Iraq AND Syriasuggest that kissing was practiced in the earliest Mesopotamian societies and may even have contributed to the spread of herpes.
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen say they now believe that kissing was common across many cultures, not in a specific region.
This contradicts the earlier hypothesis that the earliest evidence of human kissing on the lips comes from a specific part of southern Asia 3,500 years ago.
The evidence comes from clay tablets written in cuneiform, a script used by human cultures in ancient Mesopotamia between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in present-day Iraq and Syria.
Among the tablets depicting such a scene was a Babylonian clay model depicting an erotic scene from 1800 BC which appears to depict a couple’s lips touching.
Dr Troels Pank Arboll, an expert in the history of medicine in Mesopotamia at the University of Copenhagen, said: “Many thousands of clay tablets have survived to this day and contain clear examples that kissing was considered part of romantic intimacy in ancient times. ancient times, just as kissing may have been part of friendship and family relationships.
“Therefore, kissing should not be considered a custom that originated solely in one region and spread from there, but rather seems to have been practiced in many ancient cultures for several 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 across cultures, the researchers said.
The researchers also found that kissing may have accidentally helped spread viruses such as herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), which causes cold sores.
From a large collection of medical texts from Mesopotamia, they found that some of them “refer to an illness with symptoms reminiscent of herpes simplex virus 1,” said Dr. Arboll.
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However, 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 found some similarities between the disease known as buʾshanu in ancient medical texts from Mesopotamia and the symptoms caused by herpes simplex infections.
He said: “Bu’shan disease was mainly located in or around the mouth and throat, and the symptoms included blisters in or around the mouth, which is one of the dominant symptoms of herpes infection.”