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"We found these peach endocarp fossils just exposed in the strata," Su said.

In addition to their having been found in the Pliocene rocks along with many other plant fossils, the seeds inside the pits are replaced by iron, and the walls of the pits are recrystallized.

A modern peach pit would have a recent radiocarbon date, but radiocarbon analysis of the fossil peaches showed them to be older than the limit of radiocarbon dating, which about 50,000 years.

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The answer is really both," said Wilf, an associate in Penn State's Earth and Environmental Systems Institute.

The researchers say the discovery supports China being the home of the peach.

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.

The discovery indicates peaches evolved through natural selection, long before humans arrived and domesticated the fruit. -- The sweet, juicy peaches we love today might have been a popular snack long before modern humans arrived on the scene.

Animals, perhaps even primates and, eventually, early hominids, snacked on and dispersed the sweet, wild fruit and played a key role in its evolution.

Only much later, after modern humans arrived, was the peach domesticated and bred.

"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, a professor of paleobotany at Penn State and co-author of the article.

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