A Kiss is just a kiss, and a sigh is just a sigh – at least that’s what the man said – but when did people first engage in kissing as a romantic activity? Well, researchers from Oxford University and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark now say that the earliest recorded kiss occurred in ancient Mesopotamia about 4,500 years ago. And, there is also evidence that Neanderthals may have engaged in kissing the earliest human being 100,000 years ago.
Believe it or not, romantic kissing has not always been a common practice. Now, imagine if it never was. Imagine how boring all of those Hollywood romances would have been over the years if the couples did not seal their affections for one another with a kiss on the lips.
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According to Dr Troels Pank Arbøll and Dr Sophie Lund Rasmussen, who in a new article in the journal Science draw on a range of written sources from the earliest Mesopotamian societies, kissing was already a well-established practice 4,500 years ago in the Middle East. And probably much earlier, moving the earliest documentation for kissing back 1,000 years compared to what was previously acknowledged in the scientific community.
“In ancient Mesopotamia, which is the name for the early human cultures that existed between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in present-day Iraq and Syria, people wrote in cuneiform script on clay tablets. Many thousands of these clay tablets have survived to this day, and they contain clear examples that kissing was considered a part of romantic intimacy in ancient times, just as kissing could be part of friendships and family members’ relations,” says Dr Troels Pank Arbøll, an expert on the history of medicine in Mesopotamia.
And there are even other species that engage in the practice of kissing too.
As Dr. Sophie Lund Rasmussen explains, “research into bonobos and chimpanzees, the closest living relatives to humans, has shown that both species engage in kissing, which may suggest that the practice of kissing is a fundamental behavior in humans, explaining why it can be found across cultures.”
But, as we all know today, in addition to its importance for social and sexual behavior, the practice of kissing has helped to spread the transmission of microorganisms like virus and bacteria. There is a reason Mononucleosis was once called the “kissing disease.”
The researchers wrote in the journal Science that two types of kissing are generally differentiated, namely the friendly-parental kiss and the romantic-sexual kiss. “Whereas friendly-parental kissing appears to be ubiquitous among humans across time and geography,” they wrote, “romantic-sexual kissing is not culturally universal, and it is dominant in stratified societies.”
The problem for researchers is the lack of any written records regarding the practice. And the authors of the new study warn that many of the texts available that refer to kissing in the ancient world are open to interpretation.
Regardless, in our world today the “Kiss” is synonymous with affection and probably always will be.