The Original Civil War Pterosaur Photograph

By modern-pterosaur expert Jonathan David Whitcomb


The photograph now called “Ptp” has been around for a long time, possibly in one or more books in the mid-20th century, according to a number of persons who report remembering it. Very early in the 21st century, a stunt-photo was created, apparently imitating Ptp, for one or more episodes of the Freakylinks television series on the Fox network. Freakylinks was produced by Haxan. That hoax-photo for the TV show used Civil War reenactors, men who dressed up to look like soldiers of that period. It even had one man put his boot on the “head” of what was meant to look like a dead pterosaur, apparently.

But that photo has an entirely different origin than what is now called “Ptp,” and the actor putting his boot onto the head of a dead creature—that was not an original idea.

On January 14, 2017, the missile defense physicist Clifford Paiva (of California) and I agreed that the older photo, Ptp, has a genuine image of a modern pterosaur. We invite people to look at this photograph carefully and note what we’ve found in our examination of it.

Paiva has much experience in analyzing photographs. My background is more with eyewitness testimonies. Still, I was once a professional event videographer, with experience videotaping weddings, parties, and other events. That experience helped me see something in the Ptp photo, an apparently minor detail that most people would never notice. (See below: “Dragging the Pterosaur Across the Ground.”)


Civil War "Pteranodon" photograph Ptp original

Figure-1: The Ptp “Pteranodon” Civil War photograph


New Evidences of Authenticity

Mr. Paiva found a vertical eye pupil in the head of the apparent Pteranodon in Ptp. Perhaps nobody else had ever noticed that detail before, although a simple magnification of the image makes it more clear. This kind of eye pupil allows an animal to adjust the amount of light entering into the eye, enabling it to see well both at night and in the day. The “slit” eye is found in cats, crocodiles, and some snakes. . . . and apparently in this pterosaur.


vertical eye pupil and shadows

Figure-2: showing a vertical eye pupil (green image is for comparison)

Who has looked deeply into this image before this physicist did so? I never noticed that eye-slit before. But Mr. Paiva also found a relationship between different shadows, evidence that nothing like any careless Photoshop paste-on hoax was involved. He calls these similar shadings “solar shadow zones.” What’s the significance? Those similarities in shadows suggest that this is an actual photograph of a man’s actual boot on an actual apparent beak.

In the unlikely event that this photo came about by any kind of hoax, it would have been a deliberate and highly crafted modeling of a realistic pterosaur, with shapes and angles on the head and neck highly suggestive of a Pteranodon. It was not a Photoshop hoax.

Yet the most likely explanation for the apparent pterosaur in this photo is that it is no hoax of any kind; it was a real animal. Shocking as that may sound to many people raised in Western cultures, the best explanation is that this is a photograph of an actual modern pterosaur.

Dragging the pterosaur across the ground

With my experience as an events videographer, I knew that perfect shots in photography and videography are uncommon unless the camera operator prepares for them or is alert to recognize opportunities when they arise. For perfect shots to be common, however, we usually need help from others, not just the camera operator working alone.

I noticed something in the Ptp photo. It would be unlikely for a large animal to fall down to the ground, after being shot, in a perfect pose for a photographer. Of course those soldiers could have spread the wings out for the camera, also turning the dead monster’s head around for a beauty shot. But there’s more.

I know that people and things often get in the way when a camera operator wants a well-framed shot. The Ptp photo shows an apparent Pteranodon in what may be the middle of a clearing. That’s too easy for the photographer. What are the odds that the animal fell to its death in a perfect place to be photographed?

A few days ago, I was thinking about that, and I wondered if there might be drag marks that could support my idea that the animal had been dragged from somewhere else into the clearing. I looked at the photo again, and there it was: What a drag mark!


The large animal was apparently dragged across the ground

Figure-3: Drag mark on the ground

Who would notice such a mark on the ground, without looking for it? It not only suggests that this photograph was not created with any Photoshop hoaxing, but that it was not a hoax from any creation of any realistic model. It points to a real animal being dragged, by a number of men, from a place unfriendly to photography to a perfect location in a clearing.



Civil War Pterodactyl Photo

I’ve learned much more about this “Pteranodon photograph,” however, in recent days, especially from communicating with Clifford Paiva, a missile defense physicist.

Pterosaur possibility: 1903 in Iowa

To me, The Van Meter Visitor appeared in some areas weak, and the authors should have more seriously considered the pterosaur sighting possibility. [book review]

Pterodactyl Photograph With Civil War Soldiers

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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