Was Kissing a Universal Practice in the Ancient World?

News May 21, 2023

(© The Trustees of the British Museum)
Babylonian Clay Model
(© The Trustees of the British Museum)

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—According to a report in The Guardian, Troels Pank Arbøll of the University of Copenhagen and his colleagues suggest that kissing was considered part of romantic intimacy in Mesopotamia some 4,500 years ago, based upon texts written in cuneiform script on clay tablets recovered from archaeological sites. It had been previously suggested that romantic kissing originated in what is now India around 1500 B.C. “Therefore, kissing should not be regarded as a custom that originated exclusively in any single region and spread from there but rather appears to have been practiced in multiple ancient cultures over several millennia,” Arbøll explained. Kissing could also have been responsible for the transmission of pathogens such as herpes simplex virus 1, which causes cold sores. These symptoms are similar to those of bu’shanu, a disease described in ancient medical texts from Mesopotamia, he added. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Science. For more on cuneiform, go to "The World's Oldest Writing."

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