Kissing on the lips is such a natural and common act in many of today’s societies that it is easily taken for granted. But in reality, it is not clear whether people have always kissed or whether their origins lie in the relatively recent past.

As it turns out, the story and reasons for kissing are more complex than you might think.

In an article published in the magazine Sciencewe analyzed significant amounts of overlooked evidence that challenge current beliefs that the first mention of romantic-sexual kissing comes from India, around 1500 BC. C.

Instead, the kisses on the lips are documented in the ancient Mesopotamiapresent-day Iraq and Syria, since at least the year 2500 BC further. In short, it means it is romantic-sexual kiss story at least 1000 years older than was thought.

Why do we kiss?

Evolutionary anthropologists believe kissing on the lips evolved into assess the suitability of a potential partnerby chemical signals communicated by saliva or breath.

Other suggested purposes for kissing include arousing feelings of facilitating attachment and arousal sexual.

Lip kissing also occurs in our closest relatives, the chimpanzees and bonobos. This suggests that the behavior could be much older than our earliest current evidence in humans.

People in ancient Mesopotamia may have invented writing, although it was also roughly contemporary with its invention in ancient Egypt.

The oldest Mesopotamian script dates back to about 3200 BC. C., from the city of Uruk, now in southern Iraq.

This writing is known as cuneiform and was inscribed on wet clay tablets with reeds cut into the shape of a small triangle. Originally, the script was used to make notes in Sumerian, a language that has no known relationship with any other language.

Bonobos also kiss on the lips. GETTY IMAGES Photo: BBC World

It was later adapted to write Akkadian, an ancient Semitic language.

Although the earliest texts we find are mainly related to administrative practices and largely reflect the mechanics of bureaucracy, this style of writing has been developed in later centuries to include texts from other genres.

In the first half of the third millennium BC, myths and incantations are expressed in these texts, and even later – in private documents about ordinary people.

Some of the oldest sources that mention kissing on the lips can be found at mythological texts about deeds of the gods dating from around 2500 BC. C.

first plates

In one of these early instances, described on the so-called Barton Cylinder, a Mesopotamian clay artifact inscribed with cuneiform writing, two gods are said to have intercourse and kiss:

…he had sexual relations with the goddess Ninhursag. He kissed her. He impregnated her womb with the sperm of seven twins.

Later sources, such as proverbs, an erotic dialogue between a man and a woman and a legal text, give the general impression that kissing in relation to sex, family and friendship is probably a simply part of everyday life in central parts of the ancient Near East, from the end of the 3rd millennium BC.

The history of kissing is more complex than we think. GETTY IMAGES Photo: BBC World

Still, it seems that romantic-sexual kissing on the street was frowned upon, and it is possible that it was preferred between married couples.

Society probably had some social norms regarding ideal behavior. But the fact that such rules existed indicates a widespread practice.

One starting point?

There is evidence that kissing on the lips was practiced at least in the United States the ancient Middle East and India.

This contrasts with previous observations about the earliest history of kissing between humans.

A manuscript from India dated to around 1500 BC. C., for example, was used to suggest that the kiss was taken from there to the West as a cultural practice.

The oldest evidence from Mesopotamia shows that we can rule out that scenario.

Considering the wide geographical distribution of the romantic-sexual kiss in ancient times, we believe that the kiss had multiple origins. GETTY IMAGES Photo: BBC World

Taking into account the wide geographical distribution of the romantic-sexual kiss in ancient times, we believe that the kiss had multiple origins.

And even if you searched for a single point where the kiss came from, you would have to find it millennia ago in prehistoric times.

complex history

A recent anthropological study showed that the romantic-sexual kiss is not universal. However, there is ancient written documentation that suggests a trend toward its practice in societies with complex social hierarchies.

This raises the question of how widespread the practice of sexual kissing was in the ancient world, especially in societies that cannot be traced because they did not make use of writing.

While some societies may not have practiced the romantic-sexual kiss, we argue that it must have been known in most ancient cultures, for example through cultural contacts.

But if future research is to show that kissing on the lips cannot be considered nearly universal in the ancient world, it will be interesting to consider why this was not a common practice.

Surprisingly, the history and culture of kissing is a complex story with many aspects yet to be revealed.