Could This Be Humanity’s Earliest Recorded Kiss?

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Could This Be Humanity’s Earliest Recorded Kiss?
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A clay model shows a couple kissing. The work is dated approximately 1800 BCE, originating from Mesopotamia. (© The Trustees of the British Museum; image courtesy Troels Pank Arbøll)

How old is the first kiss? 

Recent studies have pointed to Vedic Sanskrit texts, written in India in approximately 1500 BCE, as the earliest documented evidence of kissing. But research published last May in the academic journal Science asserts that locking lips has been a staple in human romance since the 3rd millennium BCE, pushing the history of smooching back by more than a thousand years. 

In their paper “The ancient history of kissing,” Danish scientists Troels Pank Arbøll and Sophie Lund Rasmussen, who happen to be married in real life, indicate that humanity’s earliest recorded canoodling session can be traced to ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq and Syria).

“The clay tablets with cuneiform writing — one of the world’s first written scripts — contain descriptions of such acts of kissing from approximately 2500 BCE and onwards,” Arbøll explained to Hyperallergic

Kissing is documented in ancient Indian heritage sites, such as these sculptures adorning the Temple of Kandariya. (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

“One of the first descriptions occurs as a postcoital activity in a myth where gods have intercourse and then kiss,” Arbøll said. He added that the act is then referenced in later texts written around 1900 BCE, in descriptions relating to love and sexual desire between two individuals.

A century later, two texts from around 1800 BCE reveal that kissing was common practice in romantic intimacy, specifically for married couples, implying societal attempts to differentiate norms between wed and unwed people. 

In their paper, Arbøll and Rasmussen further considered two prehistoric sculptures from Ain Sakhri and Malta that could imply that kissing is older than writing. They also pointed to other animal species that have engaged in the gesture in one form or another. Chimpanzees, the closest living relatives of humans, engage in platonic kissing as a way to console distressed community members, and bonobos have been spotted performing intense mouth-to-mouth rituals that involve sucking on each others’ tongues, which can last up to 12 minutes.

In a less fun development, the scientists also investigated the role kissing may have historically played in the spread of infectious diseases. Referencing a July 2022 study linking present herpes variants to oral kissing in the Bronze Age, Arbøll and Rasmussen purport that symptoms of the virus may have been documented in ancient medical texts, although this theory has not yet been proven. 

While Arbøll and Rasmussen’s research charts the history of the kiss to Mesopotamia, they both maintain that its origins may be more universal, likely found in numerous cultures and geographic regions around the world.

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