Photograph of a Modern Pterosaur?

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

The original post was written in April of 2013 and is shown under the four stars below. On January 14, 2017, the physicist Clifford Paiva, of California, and I (Jonathan Whitcomb) jointly agreed that the image of an apparent pterosaur in this photograph is in fact a valid recording of a modern pterosaur. Significant investigation has been done by us, with different perspectives and methods but coming to the same conclusion: that the image of the apparent Pteranodon is an actual pterosaur that was photographed. We do not proclaim that it must be a species of Pteranodon, but it is a pterosaur.

Be aware that an imitation photograph arose around the year 2001, created with Civil War reenactors and used by the Haxan production company for one or more episodes of Freakylinks (aired on the Fox network). The Haxan photo is a known hoax and has been confused with the original photo shown below. The original is now labeled “Ptp.”

The following are some of the more recent writings about this old photograph (Ptp):

Evidence for Pterosaur Authenticity

Old Photo of a Pterosaur Declared Genuine – Official Announcement

★★★★

Have you ever seen a photograph of what looks like a modern pterosaur? We now examine one of the better-known photos, what appears to be a Pteranodon with Civil War soldiers:

It looks like six Civil War soldiers gathered around an apparent Pteranodon

Is this a genuine photograph from the Civil War? (click on it for enlargement)

After hours of online searching, I have found extremely differing interpretations. On Dale Drinnon’s Frontiers of Zoology blog (in a post dated 16-May-2012), he dismisses this image as “a recent construction using photoshop, not a very old photo at all . . .” but he seems to miss a critical point that shoots down all the value of Photoshop evidence.

Drinnon points out places where blur is used and where image insertion seems evident. But why would those particular photo effects be used? He fails to dig deeply, apparently assuming there is no need. Why take this photo seriously if Photoshop effects are obvious? I find several reasons to take this seriously enough to continue investigating this photo. Consider these questions, remembering that Photoshop was first commonly used by the public in about 1990:

  1. Was this apparent photo constructed recently, using Photoshop?
  2. Why do some persons say that they remember this photo in a publication before 1970?
  3. Is this story an isolated report, with no other sighting reports of giant pterosaurs in the USA?

Question #1:

Let’s assume somebody decided to make a hoax photo of a convincing recently-deceased Pteranodon. Using Photoshop, how would a hoaxer make it convincing? Would he use an image of a dugout canoe for the wings of the giant pterosaur? Not likely. Would he use or construct anything looking like an image of dugout canoe? Not likely. He would probably use a sketch of a whole Pteranodon, not piece together strange parts.

Drinnon is not alone, but I find it strange that some skeptics point out small details that they interpret as evidence of Photoshop manipulation (or they have heard a rumor of such) and fail to see the whole picture. Let us be clear: This photo shows a convincing head of a Pteranodon, or similar pterosaur head, with apparent wings that look somewhat like the ends of one or two very pointed dugout canoes. I suggest nobody since the first edition of Photoshop in 1990 would spend hours creating such a hoax to fooling people into thinking that a giant Pteranodon had been killed by Civil War soldiers. Those wings are too strange.

Now consider the implication of Drinnon’s proclamation that the people had halos around them (one evidence of Photoshop manipulation). What would a hoaxer do that would leave that kind of trace? What else than to insert those images of soldiers onto the background. But why go to all that trouble? He could just use an old Civil War photograph that already had soldiers in it.

I see only one good reason for a hoaxer to paste several images of individual soldiers onto a background: to hide the deception from those who might recognize the original photographs of the Civil War. But persons who know those old photographs well—those persons are rare, so the hoaxer must be extremely meticulous in his forgery. In that case, he would avoid making it at all easy for anybody to doubt what appears to be a recently-deceased pterosaur. Now we see the problem that flies in our faces: What weird wings!

Question #2:

According to one site (with which I disagree on some issues), “many people” remember reading a “‘believe it or not’ type book” that was published between 1950 and 1970. I have only a vague memory of it myself. But if one of my associates or I find it in our research, it could blow away any references to Photoshop hoaxing. We’ll see what we find.

Question #3:

Is this apparent encounter with a giant pterosaur an isolated event? Hardly. For the past nine years, I have received eyewitness reports, some of which include descriptions of a huge pterosaur-like animal flying overhead. This fits perfectly well with the concept of some Civil War soldiers being photographed next to the body of a similar creature. If genuine, the photograph would show an encounter in harmony with generations of human experience in North America.

Conclusion

I’ve not yet come to any firm conclusion about the authenticity of this photograph. I’m still keeping an open mind about its age, as well. This photograph, if recorded during the Civil War, could have been a physically contrived hoax, using one or two dugout canoes, and with a Pteranodon head added onto the photo more recently, to amplify the effect. We’ll see.

Update:

In January of 2017, after further study and consultation with the physicist Clifford Paiva, I concluded that this photo is valid, and we jointly agreed that it contains an actual image of a modern pterosaur. Much evidence has shown this to be genuine, evidence of different types, with the two of us working independently in different ways.

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Three photos of possible pterosaurs

Despite the canoe-like wings, photo #3 is the most credible of these three, by far, believe it or not. My intention, however, is not to force this into an all-or-nothing, sure-thing-or-fake, judgment. Assign it whatever credibility you like . . .

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