There were dwarf elephants. In the Mediterranean. And people drove them extinct.
I feel ashamed of my species.
I wonder how smart they were. (Related: Animal Intelligence).
I thought this was just a rhetorical question for the Homo Floresiensis, but apparently this is not the case.
First, of course, we can speculate based on brain volume, which is roughly a quarter of modern human brain volume.
We also found out a bit their tool usage. Says Wikipedia:
The hominin specimens have also been associated with stone tools of the sophisticated Upper Paleolithic tradition typically associated with modern humans, who have nearly quadruple the brain volume (1,310–1,475 cm3 (79.9–90.0 cu in)) and 2.6 times greater body mass. Some of these tools were apparently used in the necessarily cooperative hunting of Stegodon by these hominids.
(Just imagine these tiny guys hunting stegodons.)
The idea that they used relatively modern tools is quite surprising to me and suggests that sophisticated behaviors can emerge with brains significantly smaller than ours.
There is another line of evidence on their brain architecture. An expert on brain evolution and morphology believes she can infer quite a bit from their fossil remains. (This is New Scientist 2005, not to be taken too seriously).
How do you do that?
Falk used data collected during CT scans performed shortly after the skull was discovered to build a 3D computer model of the cranial cavity. This mirrors the overall shape of the brain and can even reveal certain surface features. She compared the model to ones made from the skulls of other extinct pre-humans along with those of modern humans and living apes.
The punchline is that the cranium corresponds to a relatively advanced brain architecture on the level of homo erectus.
Falk found several advanced morphological features, including enlarged frontal and temporal lobes and an extended area at the back called the lunate sulcus. In modern humans the frontal lobes are associated with forward planning and problem solving and temporal lobes are thought to play a key role in memory. The extension of the lunate sulcus is typically associated with a more highly developed ability to analyse sensory information, says Falk.
Disregarding size, the brain of H. floresiensis most closely resembled that of Homo erectus, a human ancestor that disappeared around 70,000 years ago that was thought to have made relatively complex tools.
This adds weight to the theory that H. floresiensis may have possessed an intelligence and tool-building ability traditionally associated with much larger-brained humans. The charred bones of animals were also found in the caves on Flores. “It may well be that the population was hunting, making tools and using fire,” says Falk. “I’m conservative by nature but in light of these features we find nothing to contradict this speculation.”
I will borrow the quintessential scientific ending from the article:
But Chris Stringer at the Natural History Museum in London, UK, says it may be rash to draw too many conclusions about the intelligence of H. floresiensis from the brain morphology alone. He notes that some features also seem to predate H. erectus. “I reserve judgement on what kind of intelligence and technology the animal might have had,” he says.