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Paleo Peaches? First Fossil Peaches Discovered In China

Dec 02, 2015 11:07 AM EST
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While peaches are widely popular, modern humans can't take credit for the delectable fruits. After unearthing eight fossilized peach pits older than two and half millions years, researchers from Pennsylvania State University reveal the juicy tree fruits may have been a snack eaten by many early humans.

"The peach is an important part of human history, and it's important to understand how it became what it is today," Peter Wilf, a professor of paleobotany at Penn State and co-author of the recent study, explained in a news release. "If we know the origins of our resources we can make better use of them."

The preserved peach pits, or endocarps, were recently discovered in a rock outcrop from the late Pliocene in southwest China. What's more is that researchers concluded the ancient pits are nearly identical to modern variations. It follows then that peaches evolved through natural selection -- or the help of animals, primates and early Hominids dispersing the seeds -- well before humans domesticated them. Today, there are numerous new varieties of differently shaped, sized and colored peaches circulating the globe. (Scroll to read more...)

(Photo : Tao Su)
Fossilized peach pits discovered in China dating back more than 2.5 million years are identical to pits found in modern varieties of the fruit.

"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," Wilf said in the university's release.

Based on archeological records dating back roughly 8,000 years, it has long been thought that peaches first emerged in China. The recent find -- the first discovery of fossilized peaches -- confirms this belief, suggesting the fruit is even more culturally significant than previously thought.

"The peach was a witness to the human colonization of China," Wilf added. "It was there before humans, and through history we adapted to it and it to us."

When comparing the fossilized peach pits to modern ones, researchers found the fruits from the Late Pliocene were about five centimeters in diameter.  On the other hand, modern peaches are between seven and 10 centimeters in diameter -- or the size of a small apple.

"If you imagine the smallest commercial peach today, that's what these would look like," Wilf said. "It's something that would have had a fleshy, edible fruit around it. It must have been delicious."

Their study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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