Is it possible that ancient humans had long enjoyed the sweet and juicy peaches enjoyed today?
A team of scientists found eight fossilized peach pits or endocarps in the southwestern part of China, with the endocarps dating back over 2.5 million years. The striking observation: the fossils appeared almost identical to peach pits today.
The study, published in Scientific Reports, found that the peach fruit had evolved via natural selection as suggested by the discovered fossilized peach pits.
Co-author and paleobotany professor Peter Wilf of Penn State University emphasize the importance of peaches in human history. "If we know the origins of our resources we can make better use of them," he said.
Lead author Tao Su discovered the fossilized peach pits near his Kunming home, when road construction revealed a late-Pliocene rock outcrop. The pits were exposed in the strata, he recalled.
Peaches have been widely believed to have emerged from China, with the oldest proof of archeological data from 8,000 years back. The lack of wild peach population and its long trading history makes accounting for its origins difficult.
The fossils' discovery supports the notion that peaches emerged from China, where it remains culturally important and a testament to the Asian country’s human colonization, said Wilf. Animals and early hominids feasted on peaches, and much later they were bred when modern humans came into the picture.
Wilf believed that the peaches of today are a combination of artificial agricultural breeding and evolution through natural selection.
The fossilized peach’s analysis revealed that they are older than radiocarbon dating’s limit, which is around 50,000 years. The team also estimated that the ancient finds had a diameter of about 5 centimeters (a little less than 2 inches) during the late Pliocene.
"If you imagine the smallest commercial peach today, that's what these would look like, " Wilf said, adding that it would have had a fleshy and edible fruit surrounding it and must have tasted quite delicious.