Note: This is part two of an occasional series about Bigfoot and other mysteries of Vermont and the North Country.
VERGENNES - For amateur sleuth Dennis Hall of Vergennes, the North Country abounds in unexplained natural phenomena. Hall is known nationally for his dedicated research of Lake Champlain's famous aquatic denizen, Champ the lake monster. However, recently, he has expanded his explorations into searching for evidence of Bigfoot or Sasquatch-both living and dead-on the Vermont side of the big lake.
This amateur Indiana Jones, a native Vermonter, has dedicated several decades in exploring both shore and water of Lake Champlain in search of history and prehistory.
"I have always been fascinated by our local history and prehistory," Hall said. "I believe our region has very ancient roots and is the cradle of American civilization."
Over the years, Hall has searched the lake basin for the remains of a failed 17th-century Dutch fortified outpost located near the mouth of the Otter Creek, uncovered the remains of an ancient native elm wood dugout, researched the stillborn 18th-century plans of Vermont pioneers to build an expansive, geometrical capital city spanning Button Bay to Vergennes, and discovered the original Iroquois names for Otter Creek (Makawyck) and Dead Creek (Pagkagan)-native names lost for generations until Hall rediscovered them jotted on the parchment of an antique New York land grant.
Now Hall's new inspiration is to devote more time to Bigfoot or Sasquatch research. It started in 2009 when he uncovered an unusual curved stone in a ravine about one mile from the Otter Creek Falls in Vergennes.
"I found this curved stone," he said carefully holding a buff colored stone in his right hand, "and I immediately thought it must be a prehistoric tool or maybe even a fossilized bone. I am no expert about bones, so I contacted Don Bicknell, M.D., in Vergennes. I had zero expectations about what it was; it just looked interesting enough to be something."
Hall showed the stone to Bicknell. He was surprised when the medical doctor provided him with an off-the-cuff "diagnosis".
"Well, he told me that it looked like a first rib bone, but that it was too big to be from a human. He couldn't give me more details. But it was humanlike. So, that's what makes me think it came from a large primate-an ape."
According to Hall, the first rib is the most curved and shortest of all the ribs in primates. The bone is somewhat broad and flat and twisted. Hall's stone looks like the oversized first rib of a human.
With scant information to go on, Hall surmised the only possible primate that could have possessed such a robust first rib was the extinct genus of ape known as Gigantopithecus.
This mysterious vegetarian giant ape was adapted to temperate and colder environments-much like today's North County region-between 1 million and 100,000 years ago. To date, remains of the creature have been found only in Asia. Scientists think either climate change or ancient human hunters killed off the last of these apes.
"Gigantopithecus is frequently identified with living Bigfoots," Hall said. "But now I believe I have fossil evidence that proves the creature lived here in Vermont."
According to the scientific record, Gigantopithecus has caused controversy since the 1930s. It was considered to be an ancestor of humans, at least based on fossil molars found in northern China. But now most paleoanthropologists place the creature in the subfamily Ponginae, a relative of the orangutan.
If Hall's curved stone proves to be the rib bone of a Gigantopithecus, then the find would be a scientific first-the first skeletal remains of the extinct ape found other than jawbones and teeth. (Amazingly, the entire ape has been reconstructed based only on its teeth and jaw.)
"Last summer," Hall said, "I met with several Virginia-based researchers who were visiting Lake Champlain to listen to acoustical recordings I made of Champ. I then took the opportunity to show them the fossil since I knew they were also conducting Bigfoot research. They were astounded by handling the stone."
Hall said the researchers then asked if they could borrow the stone for detailed analysis. He declined their request.
"I hesitate about letting the fossil out of my sight. That's because I've learned my lesson the hard way. I loaned some valuable Vermont artifacts I found to other researchers and they were never returned to me."
Hall said he plans to return to the unidentified ravine in Ferrisburgh and search the outwash for more "skeletal" remains-if they exist.
While he has yet to find evidence of a living Sasquatch in the Vermont woods, Hall is open to the idea that it probably exists. More importantly, Hall now believes that the stone he found along Otter Creek is tantalizing evidence that-at the very least-prehistoric Vermont was home to Gigantopithecus.