Is the Civil War Pterosaur Photograph a Trick?

By the modern pterosaur expert Jonathan Whitcomb

Now we delve into a little-known realm of cryptozoology: investigations into sightings of apparent pterosaurs, meaning living flying creatures that appear to be “pterodactyls.” More than that, however, is the examination of a photograph that appears to have been taken in the 19th century. That photo is now labeled “Ptp.”

What’s the difference between a hoax and a virtual hoax or between a deception and a pseudo-deception? For the person who is led away from the truth, what’s the difference? I’m not accusing anyone of deception, but I see a number of writings online that can lead people away from the truth regarding this old photograph.

Background on the Ptp “Pteranodon” Photograph

Some persons appear to remember this image from the middle of the 20th century, at least before 1980. That makes it less likely that the apparent pterosaur shown in the photograph came from some kind of digital manipulation using Photoshop.

I’ve been trying to find the origin of Ptp, but as of early February of 2017 I have not found the old book that is said to contain the photo. I’ll keep looking. See Figure-1.

not a fossil but a recently deceased modern pterosaur

Figure-1: Ptp photograph declared to have a genuine recording of a modern pterosaur


Who is Clifford Paiva?

From an online profile paragraph:

. . . has worked for the US Naval Fleet Analysis Center, NSWC Norco Division, formerly Fleet Analysis Center, Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach; US Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Dahlgren Laboratory; and the US Air Force Research Laboratory, Propulsion Directorate at Edwards Air Force Base, [California] . . .  is involved with ballistic missile defense, being a regular contributor to the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Missile Conferences, as well as the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE).

In other words, he’s well qualified to examine and analyze photographs from a scientific perspective. Fortunately, he has agreed to examine, with an open mind, photographic evidence suggesting the existence of modern pterosaurs.

missile defense physicist Clifford Paiva

Clifford Paiva, California

For many years, he has been aware of the photo that is now labeled “Ptp,” and he has found a number of indicators that the animal shown therein was real animal. He’s found that a number of features point to it being a species at least similar to a Pteranodon.

Declaration of Authenticity for the Image

On January 14, 2017, the physicist Clifford Paiva (California) and I spoke by phone and agreed that the image of an apparent Pteranodon in this photograph (Ptp) is a genuine photographic recording of a modern pterosaur. Be aware that we were not declaring that nobody had ever done any manipulation of the original photograph. We simply agreed that the image of that apparent Pteranodon was a real pterosaur that was photographed. It’s obviously not a fossil, and the posing of the apparent Civil War soldiers suggests the animal was shot and killed by one or more of them. Yet the point is the image of the animal itself. That requires the most attention.

Please be aware of my own journey and perspective. Mr. Paiva has believed in the value of Ptp for years, but my own weaknesses kept me from recognizing it earlier. In 2013, I wrote a number of posts on the possibility that the photograph may be genuine, but not until January of 2017 did I come to the firm conclusion of its authenticity.

Can the “Pterodactyl” Photo be a Trick or Hoax?

From Paiva’s communications with me in January of 2017, I would compare our mutual agreement of authenticity with a jury-verdict of guilty: beyond a reasonable doubt. Mr. Paiva and I did not agree to declare that it is impossible for any person to create a hoax that would appear like the image of the apparent Pteranodon in Ptp; it’s just not a reasonable conjecture that a hoax did create that appearance of a modern pterosaur (rather than an actual animal). Please also understand that we’re not saying that the animal must have been a Pteranodon; it may have been just a related type of pterosaur.

Some readers and writers seem to have confused Ptp with a hoax photo that was made to imitate it: the Freakylinks TV-series reenactment photo-hoax. See Figure-2:

fake photograph of "Civil War" "soldiers"

Figure-2: A recent trick to imitate the original (“credit” Fox Network)

Figure-2 shows what appears to be a group of Civil War soldiers standing over a dead winged creature, although the “animal” may be a poor imitation, using canvass or a similar material. The men are not actual Civil War soldiers but reenactors, dressed for the part.

Notice how the positioning of the soldiers resembles that of the men in Ptp. Even the man who stands in front of the “creature” has his boot placed in the same way. The actors shown in Figure-2 were photographed, probably in the year 2000 or 2001.

Was it merely a coincidence that the men are positioned the same as the men in Figure-1? It’s easier to believe that giant Pteranodons are still commonly flying overhead in daylight. You don’t have to be a forensic videographer like me to recognize that the Freakylinks hoax photo was made in imitation of Ptp. Unfortunately, some persons confuse the two, concluding that any photo showing apparent Civil War soldiers standing over a dead winged creature is a hoax.

Why Believe That it’s a Modern Pterosaur in Ptp?

I’ve written much about the Ptp “Civil War Pterosaur Photo” in the past few weeks, mostly in blog posts. I now summarize some of the reasons for believing that this photograph (shown in Figure-1) has a real image of a modern pterosaur:

  1. Shadows are consistent with a real soldier’s boot on the large beak of the animal
  2. Anatomical features of the head and neck, etc, point to it being a real pterosaur
  3. Placement of soldier’s is consistent with a Civil War photographer’s directing it
  4. Ground mark suggests the animal was dragged to a good location for photography
  5. Broken sapling is consistent: They prepared to drag the animal past that sapling

The above five points are direct evidence in the photograph itself. They do not tell us how this old photograph could go unrecognized for so many decades, however: how it could be seen by so many people without it being recognized and acknowledged by scientists as valid evidence for a modern pterosaur. But to properly explain that delayed recognition would require more than a few paragraphs here. Perhaps it needs a whole book.


copyright 2017 Jonathan Whitcomb


Pterodactyl Photo

I believe it’s important that people not be deceived when viewing the image that Mr. Paiva and I have declared to be a genuine modern pterosaur. We also need to understand that the more-recent imitation photo is a hoax, or at least a virtual hoax, created for a TV show. Do not confuse these two photos, for on the surface they appear similar.

Modern Pterosaurs

Includes a small image of the “Civil War Pteranodon Photograph”

Ptp Pterodactyl Photograph Proclaimed Genuine

Answering skeptical comments and criticisms of a direct interpretation of a photograph that some persons report remembering from the middle of the 20th century, long before Photoshop digital imaging processing was generally available.


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