Sealed with a Kiss

Kissing has many forms. It can be just a peck on the cheek. It can be a form of welcome – like shaking hands. It can be a kiss on the outstretched hand. It can be a signal of power and obedience – kissing the ring of a King. Or it can be sexualised – mouth to mouth.

A kiss can make a powerful political statement.

Star Trek the first inter racial kiss on TV of Kirk and Uhura

Across the cultures of the world, the kiss, takes on all or a few of these versions – but they are all acts of personal contact. And it is through personal contact that diseases have been transmitted throughout millennia.

Many researchers have gone into the different cultural aspects of kissing. Others have looked at it from a different perspective.

Troels Arbøll and Sophie Rasmussen have reviewed the ancient history of kissing, particularly the emergence of romantic-sexual kissing in Mesopotamia more than 4000 years ago and its role in the evolution and spread of orally transmitted diseases like herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1). 

Commenting on their recently published research paper they said:

“Evidence indicates that kissing was a common practice in ancient times, potentially representing a constant influence on the spread of orally transmitted microbes, such as HSV-1.”

They highlight a body of overlooked evidence of romantic-sexual kissing occurring in ancient Mesopotamian texts from 2500 BCE.

The emergence and act of this form of kissing may have had a secondary, unintended effect on disease transmission. Recent paleogenomics research has shown that common kiss-transmissible pathogens of today, including HSV-1, Epstein-Barr virus, and human parvovirus B19, were present in ancient historical and even prehistorical periods.

Arbøll and Rasmussen reviewed ancient DNA, cultural works of art, and ancient medical records to show that the presence of kissing-transmitted diseases may be more ancient and widespread than some recent studies have suggested.

“It … seems unlikely that kissing would have arisen as an immediate behavioural adaptation in other contemporary societies, which inadvertently accelerated disease transmission,” they say.

Click on this link to access, The ancient history of kissing, published in Science.

Categories: Science

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