Research links kisses in the Bronze Age to the origin of cold sores – 01/08/2022

Study analyzed ancient DNA samples to look for origins of this virus.

The spread of the cold sore virus dates back to the practice of kissing in the Bronze Age, according to a new study.

Scientists at the University of Cambridge, UK, have concluded that the HSV-1 strain of the herpes virus emerged during the great migrations of humans from Eurasia to Europe, about 5,000 years ago.

Migration has led to greater population density, which has increased transmission and new cultural practices, including kissing, according to the study’s findings.

The researchers studied DNA samples from thousands of years ago to understand how viruses adapted.

About 3.7 billion people are infected with cold sores worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

This number is equivalent to practically half of the world’s population (7.75 billion).

A DNA sample with cold sores used in the study came from a 17th-century Dutchman - UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE - UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE

A DNA sample with cold sores used in the study came from a 17th-century Dutchman


The research team said they were the first to discover and sequence ancient HSV-1 genomes. The genetic data analyzed by them span a period of a thousand years.

Previously, the oldest genetic data on herpes was from 1925.


The researchers obtained the samples used in the study by extracting viral DNA from the roots of the teeth of four individuals.

From the samples, the team was able to develop an estimated timeline of the virus’s evolution.

Another sample was taken from the skeleton of a late 14th century young adult male buried in Cambridge, UK - UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE - UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE

Another sample was taken from the skeleton of a young adult man from the late 14th century buried in Cambridge, UK.


Cold sores are transmitted orally, and researchers have noted that the oldest record of kissing comes from a Bronze Age manuscript in South Asia.

Centuries later, Roman Emperor Tiberius (42 BC – 37 AD) tried to ban kissing at official functions to prevent the spread of disease. Researchers think this may be related to herpes.

Christiana Scheib, a researcher at St John’s College, Cambridge (England), and director of the ancient DNA laboratory at the University of Tartu, Estonia, explained:

“All primate species have some form of herpes, so we assume it’s been with us since our own species left Africa.”

“However, something happened about 5,000 years ago that allowed one strain of herpes to prevail over all others, possibly an increase in transmissions, which could be related to kissing.”

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