Scotland, once a dry desert over 250 million years ago, now has a misty, rainy climate. In this ancient Scottish landscape, Gordonia, an early mammal resembling a pig-like creature with a flat face and tusks, lived. Scientists used advanced 3D imaging on a Permian Period fossil to study its brain cavity, creating a digital model to understand how early mammal brains were structured and sized. Gordonia belonged to a group of early mammals that still had some features resembling reptiles. It lived about 254–252 million years ago. Despite being close to mammals in evolution, Gordonia had a much smaller brain compared to today’s mammals, with intelligence more similar to that of reptiles.

Hady George, a PhD student in paleontology at the University of Bristol and lead author of the study in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, highlighted Gordonia’s unique features. Despite having a small forebrain crucial for cognition, Gordonia possessed a notably large pineal gland important for metabolism. Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh and senior author of the study, observed that Gordonia’s brain had an elongated, curved shape rather than the typical round structure. Despite its unusual shape, the brain was relatively large relative to the animal’s size, indicating early evolutionary advancements. This research reveals how early mammals like Gordonia influenced the evolution of intelligence in later mammals, including humans, shedding light on brain development over millions of years.