Civil War Pterodactyl Photo or a Fake?

Astonishing discovery by two scientists: Clifford Paiva and Jonathan Whitcomb

The following are taken from the nonfiction cryptozoology book Modern Pterosaurs, but before getting into it we need to be clear about the difference between the genuine original photo (now called “Ptp”) and the more-recent hoax photo for a TV show around the year 2000.


Do not confuse the two photos; only one is a fake

The genuine old photo is on the left; the fake photo (TV-show promotion) is on the right


Chapter 3: Credibility of eyewitnesses

Most of the eyewitness reports in the previous chapter were sent to me many years after the encounters. That can appear to damage their credibility, for memory is known to fade over time and become distorted. To get a more balanced perspective, consider the following reports, sent to me soon after the encounters. Then consider how much they resemble the other accounts, the ones that happened many years before.

We begin with part of an email I got late in 2012 from a Professor Steven Watters, who had studied aerospace science for three years when he contacted me. The sighting was in Crestview, Florida.

“Today, I was blessed with a sight that will never be forgotten. . . . a huge rhamphorhynchus-like flying entity . . . was flying . . . close enough it could’ve been shot down. . . . Had an estimated wingspan of 8-12 feet and a tail as long as its torso with a large bulb or lump at the tail . . . diamond shaped [apparently he was referring to the tail flange], no feathers . . .”

We could go on, with other sightings reported soon after they happened, but the point is this: The accounts do not appear to increase in favor of extant pterosaurs by the passage of time between the encounter and the time it was reported to a cryptozoologist. In fact, I wrote a news release on this very subject, published February 20, 2013: “Human Memory and Pterosaur Sightings.”

Chapter 7: Photo of a pterosaur

Before we get into the evidences of authenticity in Ptp, we need to be clear about another photograph. A hoax was created, around the year 2000, apparently made in imitation of what we now call Ptp. Beware of falling into the trap that others have: confusing the two.

. . .

. . . The skeptic APS accidentally provided us one of the pieces of evidence supporting authenticity. (Remember that he admits he is not a photography expert.) He said that “odd lines” were close to the shoe that is on the beak. Paiva looked closer and found a branch under that beak, a major breakthrough.

In the 1820’s, a primitive type of photography took hours of exposure time, ideal for capturing the image of a building but not for anything living: Nobody will stand still for three hours to be photographed. By the middle of the 19th century, however, technology had advanced, reducing needed exposure time from hours down to seconds. Nevertheless, people needed to keep as still as possible, often for well over six seconds.

Props were sometimes used to keep people steady during those few seconds. They were often hidden, but sometimes the camera caught a prop in the act.

Take the case that the animal in Ptp is real and the photograph recorded in the mid-19 th century. How hard it would have been to keep very still with your shoe on that beak! How natural to use a tree branch to steady both beak and shoe during those critical few seconds! Now look at Figure-18. They did indeed use a prop [a tree branch].

Evidence of authenticity

Skeptics have assumed that the photo we call “Ptp” is a fake, created with Photoshop. Yet that tree branch shows that the photograph was indeed recorded before about the year 1870, over a century before Photoshop existed. That branch was used as a prop to help that soldier to keep his foot steady while it was on the beak of that animal.


evidence the Civil War pterodactyl photo is older than about 1870

This tree branch was used as a prop to keep that foot motionless (pre-1870 technique)


Copyright 2017 Jonathan Whitcomb (“Civil War Pterodactyl Photo or a Fake?”)



Old pterosaur photo

How could a photograph of a modern pterosaur have gone unappreciated for a century and a half, plainly visible yet mostly ignored by Western scientists or unknown to them? You’ll get explanations here [in this book]

Civil War Pterodactyl Photo

It’s possible for two similar photos to both be fake. But when one of them was made to closely imitate the older one, it is at least a little suspicious. A counterfeit bill is most likely to be made in imitation of a genuine bill, not another counterfeit. We don’t have an exact correlation between that and the two Civil War pterosaur photos, but there’s enough of a relationship to now deserve our attention.

Fake pterodactyl in Civil War photo

Notice that the important subjects of the photo, the strange winged animal and the soldiers—all of them are in reasonably good focus, a characteristic of Civil War photography. Now look more closely at the head. It has a number of similarities to what we might expect of a Pteranodon head. It’s not 100% like what we see in Pteranodon fossils, perhaps, but why should a 19th-century pterosaur be 100% like what we have already discovered in Pteranodon fossils?

The Civil War pterosaur photo

Years ago, a scientist in California began noticing details in a photograph, clues that the image of an apparent modern pterosaur was genuine. On January 14, 2017, I spoke with Clifford Paiva (a physicist) by phone. We agreed that the photo (now labeled “Ptp”) has a genuine photographic image of a modern pterosaur.

Pterosaurs Still Living

Before writing his scientific paper “Reports of Living Pterosaurs in the Southwest Pacific,” Whitcomb gathered statistics on the directions of flight and the times of night, for the ropen-light sightings. He determined that it was more common for the light to go toward the coast early at night and to return inland later.

Supporting the Bible

“Many of those who’ve searched for extant pterosaurs, and interviewed eyewitnesses, believe in the Bible, and that includes belief in the literal Flood as recorded in Genesis. . . . Now we have a photograph to back up sighting reports and support belief in the Flood.”

Modern Pterosaurs

The “Civil War Pteranodon photograph” was, in January of 2017, declared to be a genuine image . . . A modern pterosaur!? How could it be? Extraordinary but true, huge flying creatures, with no feathers yet unlike any bat, live among us . . .


"Human encounters with living pterodactyls" - "Modern Pterosaurs" is in the nonfiction cryptozoology genre

The astonishing new nonfiction book Modern Pterosaurs

A small nonfiction paperback book, this may have the most amazing discovery in scientific history: physical evidence for a species of modern pterosaur in the 19th century.


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