Apparent Pteranodon in an old photograph

Civil War Soldiers and a Monster-Pterodactyl

By the modern-pterosaur expert Jonathan D. Whitcomb

Before giving a brief history of our investigations of this old photograph, I present a recent discovery related to the source of what we now call “Ptp,” what some people would call the “Civil War” Pteranodon photo.

Don’t confuse it with the TV-show hoax photo with Civil War reenactors. That was for Freakylinks (Fox Network) around the year 2000, and it’s a fake animal but with men standing in imitation of the soldiers in the original genuine photograph (Ptp).

Underwood & Underwood Publishes the Pterosaur Photo

Early in June of 2017, I found evidence for an early publication of the old photograph: the company Underwood & Underwood (U&U). Understand, however, how they used the word publishers. They made copies of photographs and distributed them. U&U did not, as far as I know, publish any books or magazines.

"pterodactyl" "monster" in a "Civil War" photograph published by Underwood & Underwood

Evidence for an early existence of the Ptp photograph

Underwood & Underwood began their photography business around 1881, around Ottawa, Kansas. They eventually became “the largest publisher of stereoviews in the world, producing 10 million views a year,” according to Wikipedia.

By about the year 1910, U&U entered the news photography field and discontinued distributing stereoviews (also called stereographs) around 1920. The Civil War pterosaur photo was very likely copied and sold by them before 1920.

I found the image with borders, with “Underwood & Underwood, Publishers,” printed on the left side, on a Pinterest page with the following text under the image:

A photo of a strange winged monster shot and killed by soldiers near Vicksburg July 16, 1864

Brief History of the “Monster-Pterodactyl” Photograph

This is just an introduction to the scientific examinations a physicist and I have done with what we now call “Ptp.”

I had known about Ptp for many years before it had that name. I may have been under a confirmation bias for almost all of those years, however, for I thought that those wings may have been constructed from canoes. Early in 2017, a canoe expert explained to me that those are not canoes, so I took a deeper look into the image.

Clifford Paiva, a physicist living in California, and I began searching the photo for clues about what is real or unreal in its parts. We soon made some remarkable discoveries, pointing to the animal being real and the photo being genuine.

Paiva found that shadows were consistent on the animal

Consistent shadows and a vertical eye pupil

Photoshop-Hoax Conjecture Shot Down

Several factors practically eliminated the plausibility of a Photoshop hoax with Ptp, after Paiva and I examined the photograph carefully in the first five months of 2017. (Yet more evidence would emerge with the discovery of the Underwood & Underwood border.)

Paiva noticed that the shadow under the shoe of the soldier in front was similar to another shadow on the animal. In addition, he found what was probably a stabilizing prop under that animal’s beak. That was evidence that the photo was taken before about the year 1870.

I magnified the images of belt buckles, measuring their widths. This showed that those men were standing as they appeared to have stood when the photograph was taken. In other words, no cut-and-paste image manipulation was done to create a fake photo, with those images of six men.

The discovery of the border on the photo, a border with the printing of “Underwood & Underwood,” shot down the idea that digital image manipulation was the main origin of Ptp. That company went out of business decades before Photoshop, and computers, existed.


copyright 2017 Jonathan Whitcomb


Living Pterosaurs and Skepticism

I hate to think what life would have been like, for me and my associates, for these many years, if we had never encountered any skeptical remarks or any criticisms of any kind regarding our investigations of reports of encounters with apparent modern pterosaurs. We could have fallen into carelessness in many aspects of our work, for some skepticism can be healthy. Yet people need to be careful when they criticize or put words to their doubts. I think there’s a difference between scientific skepticism and other kinds.


Confirmation Bias and Living Pterosaurs

Glen Kuban has written a long online article: “Living Pterosaurs (Pterodactyls)?” I now acknowledge that he often revises that page, and details that I publish, including quotations, may be seen by him, resulting in corrections that he will make in it. If things continue as they have, in the months of March, April, and May, of 2017, however, the most serious problems in “Living Pterosaurs” will not be much affected by his changes. Why? He continually falls into confirmation bias.


Objectivity and Bias With the “Civil War” Photograph

I’ll not here mention the name of any critic of living-pterosaur (LP) investigations. One skeptic has been especially vocal in attacking my writings. I don’t accuse him of dishonesty, and I appreciate his care in also avoiding that kind of stand when he writes about me. (He has mentioned my name hundreds of times in his online criticisms of LP-relevant research in cryptozoology.) But he seems to have fallen into a severe combination of bias issues including both confirmation bias and belief perseverance, regarding his ideas about the old photo that is now known as “Ptp.”


Video on the “Pteranodon” Photograph

Clifford Paiva (physicist) and Jonathan Whitcomb declare that this is a genuine photograph with a real animal that is obviously an extant pterosaur. The head strongly suggests it was something like a Pteranodon.


Civil War Pterosaur Photograph

I do not condemn objective scientific criticism, but how often have I seen critical comments that are unscientific! Any person can potentially have a bias, including those who support standard models of science and are defending old established points of view.


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