Thousands of years before you and your grade-school crush were “sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G,” your ancestors were engaged in a similar display of affection.
There’s a lot that historians still don’t fully understand about how kissing became a common human phenomenon. But we’re starting to get a better understanding of what it is and how long we’ve been doing it.
Two distinct types
The act of giving someone a kiss can be done for multiple reasons, but the two most common examples involve a romantic or a parental display of affection. These are the two types most closely studied by modern experts, and there appears to be a clear divergence in the developing histories of both.
- Romantic kisses were commemorated in a manuscript from about 1500 B.C., but some evidence suggests it was practiced at least 1,000 years earlier.
- Friendly (or parental) kisses seem to date back much farther and appear more deeply ingrained in the human experience.
- While evidence of parental kissing transcends cultures and nations, not every society recognizes the act as a romantic or sexual gesture.
So where did the concept of romantic kissing come from? Earlier theories speculated that it kind of erupted out of nowhere and the notion spread around the world. More recently, however, historians have come to believe that it was a more organic behavior that many different cultures came to discover on their own over the course of thousands of years.
It’s not just humans
Some of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom have also been known to share a peck on the lips. Chimpanzees reportedly kiss as part of a platonic method to maintain their social structure. Bonobos, on the other hand, are believed to display sexual desire in the kisses they plant on their partners.