Was a Pterodactyl Shot During the American Civil War?

By cryptozoology author Jonathan Whitcomb, of Murray, Utah

Much confusion has come from publicity involving two photographs that, on the surface, greatly resemble each other. The following shows them side by side for comparison:

photograph on left is genuine; on the right is the more-recent hoax photo

Figure-1: Authentic original photograph on the left and the recent hoax-photo on the right

The one on the left, labeled “Ptp,” has been declared by me and by the scientist Clifford Paiva to have an authentic image of a real animal. In other words, we proclaim that a real animal was photographed, notwithstanding the head greatly resembles that of a Pteranodon (a Pterodactyloid pterosaur).

Before getting into the reasons for our conclusion, however, let’s consider copyright issues. The Ptp photo is surely in the public domain, for numerous persons remember seeing it around the 1960’s in an old book, and the photo was declared to be from the American Civil War era.

The more-recent photo has apparently come into public domain through the way that it was first published. It came into public attention through publication as an old photo portrayed as coming from the 19th century. That allowed people to publish it themselves, under the concept that it was from that time period, for all Civil War photographs are in the public domain, outside any copyright restrictions. Nevertheless, it is shown in Figure-1 with “‘credit’ Fox Network,” for it was actually created around the year 2000, to promote the Freakylinks television series (produced by Haxan Films).

[I do not imply, by giving credit to Fox Network and to Haxan Films, that the image on the right has not come into public domain. That image has come into public domain. I’m simply giving credit to Fox Network and to Haxan Films for the work involved in its creation.]

The relevance for cryptozoology is obvious: the Freakylinks photo was made in imitation of the original (Ptp). The recent hoax began with the actual photographing of Civil War reenactors, men who were dressed in uniforms made to look like that time period. Digital image processing was probably then used to make the photo appear to be very old, yet it was actually of actors photographed around the year 2000.

We now concentrate on the older photograph (Ptp) that really is old.

Soldiers and an Apparent Pteranodon

My friend and associate Clifford Paiva has found a number of evidences for the authenticity of Ptp. These include:

  1. Potential blood effusion areas
  2. Solar shadowing consistency
  3. Details in head, neck, and shoulder suggest a Pteranodon
  4. Small tree was apparently broken down to allow dragging of animal

The first may be the most dramatic but perhaps the least convincing, for it’s hard for most people to see. But #2 demonstrates that no paste-on hoax was involved in putting together the man in the front and the animal; in other words, Photoshop was not used in putting those two images together: They were photographed together, a real man with his boot on a real beak.

Paiva and I often use science in different ways, although both of us have investigated evidences for extant pterosaurs. The following are some of the clues I found in Ptp:

  1. A drag mark on the ground
  2. The positions of soldiers behind the animal
  3. The pixel sizes of buckles and buttons on clothing

I used to be an event videographer, so I know something about placing people and objects for videotaping and photographing. Assuming Ptp was an actual photograph, in the 19th century, of six soldiers who were standing by the carcass of a recently deceased animal, it would have been unlikely that the poor beast had fallen into an ideal location for that photography. That explains #1, for the animal needed to be dragged into the clearing. This relates to Paiva’s clue #4: breaking down a very small tree to allow the animal to be dragged there.

mark on ground shows where the animal was dragged

Figure-2: Whitcomb found a line in the ground, apparently where the animal had been dragged

I also used my experience in event videography to understand the positioning of the six soldiers. A photographer would have wanted the men to stand behind the animal, because such an unusual creature would need to be viewed in detail, as the main subject. That’s what we see in Ptp, with one exception: One soldier may have been given credit for shooting down the giant bird-like creature, so he may have insisted that he be seen with his boot on the beak, as a sign of victory; nevertheless, the positions of the other five men are consistent with the concept that a photographer had told the men where they should stand. Five of the six soldiers followed the instruction of the photographer precisely.

positioning for a photographer

Figure-3: How a photographer would have asked the soldiers to stand, mostly behind the animal

Here’s another concept involving soldier-placement, in my point #3. I magnified the images of belt buckles and buttons, finding that the man in front has a slightly greater pixel width for buckle and button than those of the men standing behind the animal. This is perfectly consistent with the concept that those men were photographed in the way that they appear to be in the photograph. In other words, the six men were standing to be photographed in the same positions in which we see them. The images of soldiers were not pasted into a scene of a lone monster in a clearing.

Two Scientists Confirm Ptp has a Real Animal

Clifford Paiva is a missile defense physicist, with special experience in analysis of photographs. Apparently nobody has ever denied that he is a scientist. My own position as a scientist might be denied by a skeptic, for most of my writings have been in the nonfiction cryptozoology genre. Yet the following I present to support my position as a scientist.

Early in the 21st century, I wrote An Evolutionary Boundary, although it was not published in a scientific journal. Years earlier, I had graduated from Control Data Institute in Pasadena, California, so I had no trouble programming my home computer to do the simulation of population variations. My work on the E.B. simulation took 6-8 months, as I recall.

In more recent years, I did a study that included statistical analysis of eyewitness testimonies of apparent extant pterosaurs, showing that no significant number of hoaxes could have contaminated the overall data. I also published, previous to that, a scientific paper in a peer-reviewed journal: Creation Research Society Quarterly, Volume 45, Winter 2009: “Reports of Living Pterosaurs in the Southwest Pacific.” Those were two separate endeavors, although they were both about the possibility that not all species of pterosaurs became extinct. Thus my qualifications as a scientist can be summarized with the following three points, although other writings might have also been listed:

  1. Evolutionary Boundary mathematical simulations of biological population changes
  2. Analysis of eyewitness testimonies, with details showing hoaxes had little or no influence
  3. Publication of a scientific paper in a peer-reviewed journal of science

On January 14, 2017, Clifford Paiva and I agreed that the photograph (Ptp) has a genuine image of a real animal, although we stopped short of declaring that it must have been a Pteranodon. We do agree that it certainly gives one the impression that it was a Pteranodon.




Apparent Civil War Pterodactyl Photo

The following photograph [Ptp] has been around for a long time. It may be the image that caught my attention around 1968, while I was browsing the shelves of a public library in Pasadena, California. Other persons seem to remember this “pterodactyl” photo from about that time.

Evidence for Extant Pterosaurs

Before mid-January of 2017, I had assumed that the primary type of evidence for the reality of non-extinct species of pterosaurs was in eyewitness testimony, and that it was almost the only evidence. Then the image of an apparent Pteranodon, in the photograph that I now call “Ptp,” struck me harder than it ever did before.

Civil War Pterodactyl Photo

Youtube video about soldiers standing by a dead pterosaur, apparently a shot Pteranodon

Two photos of a Civil War 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.


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