The Paleo Peach: First Fossil Peaches Discovered in China Reveal Ancient Snack

First Posted: Dec 02, 2015 10:39 AM EST

It turns out that peaches may have been a popular snack even before the arrival of modern humans. Researchers have found well-preserved fossilized peach pits that were probably eaten by our early ancestors.

In this latest study, the researchers found eight well-preserved fossilized peach pits in southwest China that date back more than two and a half million years. Despite their age, though, the fossils appear to be almost identical to modern peach pits.

So what does this mean? It seems as if peaches evolved through natural selection well before humans domesticated the fruit. This, in particular, sheds new light on the history of the fruit.

"The peach is an important part of human history, and it's important to understand how it became what it is today," said Peter Wilf, one of the researchers, in a news release. "If we know the origins of our resources we can make better use of them."

The discovery provides important new evidence of the origins and evolution of the modern fruit. Peaches are widely thought to have originated in China, but the oldest evidence had been archaeological records dating back about 8,000 years. No wild population has ever been found, and its long trade history has made tracing its beginnings difficult.

Animals, early primates and eventually early hominids snacked on and dispersed the sweet fruit. This, in particular, played a key role in its evolution. Only much later after modern humans arrived was the peach domesticated and bred.

"Is the peach we see today something that resulted from artificial breeding under agriculture since prehistory, or did it evolve under natural selection? The answer is really both," said Wilf.

The findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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