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Making Out in Mesopotamia: kissing older than previously thought

Kissing may be a thousand years older than was believed, a new study conducted by the universities of Oxford and Copenhagen suggests. 

The study dates ‘human lip kissing’ as being an established feature of life in early Mesopotamiam societies by roughly 3500 BCE. Before Doctors Troels Pank Arbøll and Sophie Lund Rasmussen’s research, studies had suggested South Asia was the cradle of kissing civilizations supposedly establishing the practice by around 2500 BCE.

“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”, said Dr Arbøll speaking with the Oxford Mail.

He continued, “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.” 

Among the tablets uncovered was a Babylonian clay model depicting what has been confidently called an ‘intimate scene’ dated roughly 1800 BCE. 

Dr Rasmussen added: “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 behaviour in humans, explaining why it can be found across cultures.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, evidence from Mesopotamian tablet records suggest that the institution of human lip kissing may have contributed to the transmission of cold sores. The sores are the hallmark symptom of a person infected with the herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), which Arbøll and Rasmussen tentatively identify with the “bu’shanu disease” referenced in a body of ancient Mesopotamian medical texts. Arbøll qualified the hypothesis: “the symptoms [of bu’shanu are] reminiscent of the herpes simplex virus”.

However, Arbøll and Rasmussen stress that cuneiform descriptions are not to be taken at face value. “It’s important to note that these ancient medical texts can be influenced by cultural and religious beliefs”, said Arbøll. 

Rasmussen offered a less conservative analysis: “if the practice of kissing was widespread and well-established in a range of ancient societies, the effects of kissing in terms of pathogen transmission must likely have been more or less constant.”

Neither Atik nor Bridge responded to requests for comment.

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