The Oldest Kiss in the World

Most of us can vividly remember our first kiss, but when did smooching become part of romantic relationships? A husband and wife research team have found the earliest record of a romantic kiss. They have dated it to 4,500 years ago, which is 1,000 years earlier than previous studies suggest kissing originated.

A Mesopotamian kiss

The team from the University of Copenhagen and the University of Oxford studied a number of clay tablets from ancient Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq and Syria. They found evidence of kissing in literature from a few Mesopotamian societies.

Previously, historians believed that kissing in humans first began 3,500 years ago in South Asia, then spread to other regions. This was based on references to kissing in Sanskrit texts from the Indian subcontinent.

The Mesopotamian clay tablets, written in the cuneiform writing system, divided the act of kissing into two categories. The first was “friendly and familial affection” and the second was “erotic action.” The tablets they looked at dated to 2,500 BCE 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,” said Troels Pank Arbøll, co-author of the article.

Chimpanzees kiss.

Chimpanzees and bonobos kiss. Photo: Shutterstock


Impossible to pinpoint the first kiss

The fact that so many clay tablets, from several places, detailed kissing suggest that kissing did not originate in one location and then spread to other regions. Instead, it was likely practiced by a number of ancient cultures. Writing in Mesopotamia was first used in formal, administrative settings. Over time, people used writing for other purposes and we begin to see references to kissing in myths, stories, and private documents.

More early evidence of kissing is the mention of a virus called ‘bu’shanu’ in medical texts from the time. Researchers believe bu’shanu to be what we now call cold sores. Cold sores (herpes simplex virus 1) are a contagious, sexually transmitted disease that is kissing can spread.

Not just humans

Although this is the earliest record of kissing, no one knows exactly when the behavior began. Behavioral studies of bonobos and chimpanzees (our closest living relatives) show that both kiss. This suggests that it is a fundamental behavior and might explain why kissing is shared by so many different cultures. Arbøll believes that there could also be evidence that Neanderthals kissed, based on analysis of their tooth plaque.

But other scientists have refuted such claims. William Jankowiak completed a study on hunter-gatherers in 2015 and found no evidence of kissing among these societies. Jankowiak believed kissing started amongst societal elites with time to pursue pleasure.

Science published their research.

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca McPhee is a freelance writer for ExplorersWeb.

Rebecca has been writing about open water sports, adventure travel, and marine science for three years. Prior to that, Rebecca worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, and a Wildlife Officer for ORCA.

Based in the UK Rebecca is a science teacher and volunteers for a number of marine charities. She enjoys open water swimming, hiking, diving, and traveling.