Despite their incredible age, the pits seem basically identical to those found in modern peaches. The researchers suspect that the fruit would have been on the small end of the commercial peach spectrum but otherwise would have resembled today's peaches enough to bear the same species name.
Since the first modern humans hit the scene only about 250,000 years ago — and started actively cultivating plants only about 10,000 years ago, give or take — that means the peach may have evolved to something quite close to its modern state without any help from us.
"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," Peter Wilf, a professor of paleobotany at Penn State and co-author of the article, said in a statement.
"The peach was a witness to the human colonization of China," Wilf continued. "It was there before humans, and through history we adapted to it and it to us."
In addition to suggesting a long and juicy history for the delicious fruit, Wilf and his colleagues believe that the find solidifies it as a native Chinese fruit. Peaches — with their tasty flesh and big, resilient pits — were perfectly suited to proliferate the Earth, their seeds dropping from the beaks and hands of all manner of animals as they traveled far and wide. So even though our earliest records of the peach came from China, knowing the fruit could be traced there 8,000 years or so ago just didn't make for a good origin story. But 2.5 million years? That'll do the trick.
Because the researchers can't reconstruct the fruit from the pits, they can't actually be sure that it would be similar enough to a modern peach to carry the same species name. In light of that, they have proposed a new name for it: Prunus kunmingensis, in honor of its hiding place in the city of Kunming.