Unlike some other crops (like corn), peaches didn’t need thousands of years of selective breeding to bring them to their current supermarket size. In fact, the oldest fossilized peach pits ever discovered reveal that 2.5 million years ago, peaches were about the same as the smaller varieties available today.
A new study in the journal Scientific Reports dates eight peach pits recently uncovered near a bus station in Kunming, a city in southwest China, to more than 2.5 million years ago, in the late Pliocene. The pits look almost identical to a modern peach pit, suggesting that natural selection gave rise to peaches, rather than human agricultural design. The discovery also lends credence to the idea that peaches originated in China, where they’ve previously been traced back at least 8000 years in the archaeological record.
Humans did cultivate peaches, however, creating new varieties and breeding them to be larger. The kind of peach that existed before human agriculture would have measured about 2 inches in diameter—small compared to some of the giant peaches sold in grocery stores today, but not unheard of.
"The peach was a witness to the human colonization of China," according to co-author Peter Wilf, a professor in Penn State’s geosciences department. "It was there before humans, and through history we adapted to it and it to us."