Confirmation Bias With the Old Civil War Photograph

By the modern-pterosaur expert Jonathan Whitcomb

Skeptics have found apparent faults with the old photograph that we now call Ptp, the “Civil War pterodactyl photo.” Yet under closer examination, those supposed weaknesses evaporate. It seems that either confirmation bias or belief perseverance (or both) has played a role in how some persons have interpreted the photograph.


the Ptp photograph of an apparent Pteranodon

Six apparent Civil War soldiers standing over an apparent modern pterosaur


In the recent blog post “Modern Pterosaurs and Confirmation Bias,” I mentioned how I had been influenced by my original impression of those wings, but something else caused me to doubt Ptp many years ago, something I left out of that post.

It was that shoe of the soldier in front, the shoe that appeared to rest on the beak of the apparent Pteranodon. Something did not look right: how that shoe was on that beak. I feel sure I am not alone in that impression, but it requires a closer examination to come to understand what is happening when we look at that area of the photo.

My confirmation bias

When I considered the apparent absence of support from scientists, for Ptp, it seemed to confirm what I had already concluded from the feelings I had about the wings and about the shoe on the beak. I now recognize confirmation bias in my thinking. When my doubts were answered, in the first two months of 2017, it allowed me to tackle that question about the lack of support from scientists in general, why official recognition is taking so long.

Confirmation bias in the thinking of critics

One skeptic said, in an online forum posting, that there was no shadow under the “boot” of the man who appeared to be standing with a shoe on the beak. Look closer, however, and under magnification it becomes clear: There IS a shadow under that man’s shoe. The scientist Clifford Paiva (a physicist in California) has found more than that, for he has told us that the shadow under that shoe correlates with other shadows on the animal. In other words, that is a real animal (or animal model) with a real man with his shoe on its beak.

Yet this took a careful study by a scientist, before it was confirmed that the shadow of the shoe on the beak is a genuine shadow. We are very grateful to Clifford Paiva for all of his work with Ptp.


tree-branch prop under the beak of the apparent Pteranodon

Arrow points to the tree-branch prop; also look at the shadow under the shoe


Explanation for the strange appearance of the shoe

That does not mean that the strangeness of the appearance is pointless or without any foundation. There is an explanation, but it requires looking closer and thinking about the situation those men were in at the time the photo was taken.

That beak is propped up by an apparent tree branch (another evidence discovered by Paiva). What’s the significance? The photograph was taken before about the year 1870, when people needed to be kept motionless for many seconds. The photographer would use one or more props to help people keep still.

So how would you expect that man to hold his shoe on that beak? With very little weight, of course. What is the result? The man appears to have put only the left edge of the sole of his shoe onto that beak. It would have been out of place to fully rest much weight onto the beak, for that would easily have caused motion during the many seconds needed for photographic recording. Placing only a tiny bit of weight onto that beak was easier if the man had made contact with the beak with only the left edge of the bottom of his shoe. What would we expect from all of that? A shadow on the beak, under the shoe.

How does that relate to confirmation bias? The skeptic who said that there was no shadow under the shoe—that man probably had fallen into confirmation bias, having already concluded that the photo was a hoax. He saw something strange in the placement of that shoe on the beak and concluded there was no shadow cast by the shoe. In reality, it was exactly the opposite: There is a clear shadow there. Not only was that skeptic mistaken about the shadow but he was mistaken in assuming the photo, in general, was a hoax.

Why is it taking so long for scientists in general to recognize the significance of Ptp? The answer could take a whole book to explain. In general part of it is this: Too many persons have assumed, for too long, that it was a hoax, and it takes too much courage for many scientists to come forward and make a statement about this photograph. Thank God for the courage of the scientist Clifford Paiva.


copyright 2017 Jonathan Whitcomb


Modern Pterosaurs and Confirmation Bias

This skeptic has made many mistakes, and appears, to me, to have fallen into both confirmation bias and belief perseverance. As I cannot read his mind and he has not responded to my request for him to investigate the possibility of confirmation bias on his part, I’ll take the general case: Skeptics in general have been misguided by generations of indoctrination into 19th century dogmas, including the idea that all species of pterosaurs became extinct long ago.


The “Bible of Modern Pterosaurs” (nonfiction book)

Those with differing religious beliefs can work together in finding the truth. How we all need to work in harmony with those who seem, on the surface, to differ! How we need each other!





"Modern Pterosaurs" nonfiction book by Whitcomb

Nonfiction cryptozoology book Modern Pterosaurs by Jonathan David Whitcomb

The main point of this book is this: The photograph now called Ptp has significant points of evidence in its favor, and what were once thought to have been evidences of a hoax have now been seen as invalid or as having serious weaknesses. The great preponderance of evidence points to the interpretation that this is a 19th century photograph of a modern pterosaur. Scientific analysis fully supports this conclusion.


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Old Photo of a Pterosaur

By the living-pterosaur expert Jonathan D. Whitcomb

Introduction to the “Civil War photograph of a pterodactyl”

A number of names or labels have been given to this old photo, probably the most practical being “Ptp,” for that helps to distinguish it from the more recent hoax photo that was created to promote the Freakylinks television show produced by Haxan Films at the beginning of the 21st century.

the Ptp photograph of an apparent Pteranodon

The above image is the Ptp photograph (with an apparent Pteranodon)

This is a series of brief reviews of several web pages on the subject of the animal shown in the Ptp photo: an apparent Pteranodon. It also has a brief review of an online page on the nonfiction book Modern Pterosaurs, which I recently wrote on that subject.

Those blog posts (or other online sources of information) that I would recommend—those are given links at the bottom of this post. I do not give a link to one site that is mentioned here, for it can be extremely misleading; still, I give “Living Pterosaurs” a brief review here, for its negative statements need to be answered.

Civil War Pterodactyl Photo

Posted January 23, 2017, on the Modern Pterosaur blog

This examines a magnified view of the head of the apparent Pteranodon in the Ptp photograph, and includes, “. . . the physicist found a correlation between a solar shadow under the boot of the soldier and ones on the animal.”

This post also explains how I, Jonathan Whitcomb, came to change my view about Ptp. This is found in the section “Skepticism of the Civil War Pterodactyl Photo.”

A Civil War Monster Photograph

This I posted on April 21st (and I highly recommend for online writing)

This is much longer than my average blog post, getting into how I got involved in the living-pterosaur investigations. Halfway through it, I get into Ptp. says this is a 12-minute read, although I think some readers could take longer than that.

An Introduction to the Old Photograph Ptp

This Youtube video, which I uploaded on April 26, 2017, is almost 14 minutes long, and is probably the most useful in presenting the positive side of the possibility that a modern pterosaur was photographed in the 19th century.

If you read none of the other blog posts on Ptp, you would do well to watch this video. It’s not really a substitute for reading my book Modern Pterosaurs, but takes only 14 minutes and it’s free to watch.

“About Us”

This is actually much more about Ptp than it is about me and the physicist Clifford Paiva. In fact, it consists almost entirely of quotations from the nonfiction Modern Pterosaurs (Introduction and chapters one and seven).

Living Pterosaurs (“pterodactyls”)? (by Glen J. Kuban)

This is surely the longest anti-extant-pterosaur web page ever published, at over 60 paragraphs. I will not link to it, for too many readers can be mislead by its attacks against writings that support the possibility that one or more species of pterosaur is still living.

For years, “Living Pterosaurs” included a tiny image of what we now call the Ptp. Yet what little was said about it was misleading, for Kuban had confused two different photos: Ptp and the Haxan Films Freakylinks hoax photo. How many readers may have been mislead by that! I do not imply any deception there, for after I had contacted Kuban, in March of 2017, he revised the page, by late April, publishing both photos.

Yet he added quite a few large paragraphs that attacked the idea that Ptp could be a genuine photograph of a modern pterosaur. Kuban appears determined to hold onto 19th century ideas about universal extinctions of basic forms of life, in particular the life of those wonderful featherless flying creatures: pterosaurs.


copyright 2017 Jonathan Whitcomb


Civil War Pterodactyl Photo

Do not confuse the above photo [the old Ptp] with a hoax made for Freakylinks (Fox network series that was on the air from 2000 to 2001.) The television hoax-photo has Civil War reenactors standing over a vague canvass-like thing on the ground, yet it was made in imitation of the above photo [which is a genuine 19th century photo]. . .

A Civil War Monster Photograph

What a gruesome head! I don’t recall when I first saw the monster photo, perhaps as long ago as 1968, but that long beak and head appendage made me uneasy.

Introduction to the old Civil War Photograph (video)

Clifford Paiva (physicist) and Jonathan Whitcomb declare that this is a genuine photograph with a real animal that is obviously an extant pterosaur.

About Us (under “Pterosaur Photo”)

On January 14, 2017, Clifford Paiva and I (Jonathan David Whitcomb) spoke by phone and agreed that a photograph we had been studying had a genuine image of a real animal. We did not insist that this must have been a species of Pteranodon killed during the American Civil War. . . .


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Real “Dinosaur” in a Civil War Photograph

By the modern-pterosaur expert Jonathan Whitcomb


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. Some people call this kind of animal a “flying dinosaur” or a “pterodactyl.” Let’s look at this from a scientific perspective, keeping an open mind to various possibilities.

The photo had been known by many people for a long time, but it had been confused with another photo, of a hoax Civil War reenactment, that had been made in imitation of the original. Compare the two photographs in Figure-1:

Ptp on left is genuine pterosaur but on the right is a hoax-photo

Figure-1: Original (Ptp) photo on the left; imitation on the right (click on image)

Comparing the two Apparent Civil War Photographs

Notice that the photo on the right has nothing in focus, which is not normal for Civil-War era photography. The one on the left, however, has both soldiers and the animal in focus.

Several things suggest the one on the right is a Civil War reenactment with actors dressed to look like soldiers of that period. It’s not that any one clue is proof by itself, but when taken together they at least strongly suggest it’s a hoax photo.

Notice one soldier in the photo on the right, the man on the far left of that image. It looks like his stomach is so large that he cannot button his shirt. That can be explained: Perhaps all the other apparent soldiers were regular Civil War reenactors, and one more man wanted to join them. The new man had never played that kind of part before, so he had to borrow at least part of a uniform. The shirt was too small, so he left it unbuttoned.

In addition, the stance of at least two of the “soldiers,” in the photo on the right, is unusual. In old Civil War photographs, one or two soldiers might be seen with arms folded across the chest; is a bit uncommon but not rare. For two soldiers to hold their rifles while folding their arms across their chests, however, appears strange. I’ve never seen a genuine Civil War photo that had two men standing like that.

But we have a direct way of judging the photo on the right: It was leaked out, early in the 21st century, that this was a hoax for the Freakylinks television show. Photoshop or something similar was probably used to make the modern photo appear to be old.

Now notice how the two photos resemble each other. Obviously one of them is imitating the other, but which is the older one? Several persons have reported that they remember the one we see on the left (in Figure-1). They say that it was in a book they had seen around the 1960’s or 1970’s. Some persons may have seen it even earlier. Combining that with the knowledge we have of the Freakylinks hoax, we can see that Ptp is the older one.

Many TV shows entertain with fiction, but in this case it created a problem, for many persons seem to have become confused by the two similar photos. When the subject of a “Civil War pterodactyl photo” comes up, they assume there’s only one photo and that it’s a joke or hoax. In addition, other persons assume, after learning of the hoax, that both photos must be fake. Those persons, however, probably do not look deeply into the clues, that are there for the viewing, in the older photograph: clues to the authenticity of Ptp.

Science and Objective Evaluations

The physicist Clifford Paiva examined the Ptp photo, finding several things that suggested that the image of an apparent Pteranodon is genuine. (Apparently the scientist felt that it was unnecessary to examine the TV-show hoax photo.)

The shadow under the boot of the soldier in front corresponds with shadows found on and under the image of the animal. This gives at least a strong suggestion that no digital pasting was done of a soldier-image being put onto another photograph.

That fits perfectly with what people tell us: This photo (Ptp) was seen in a book many years before Photoshop existed. But another question arises: Why would any hoaxer, who was an expert in modern computerized image manipulation, want to paste even one soldier onto a photograph that had a convincing Pteranodon image? And where would that hoaxer get such an incredible photograph?

Those questions arise because of what Paiva found in closer examinations of Ptp. The head suggests the animal is a Pteranodon or a modern pterosaur that appears much like a Pteranodon. But it’s not just the beak and head crest. The neck and shoulder also suggest it is something like that Pterodactyloid pterosaur.

By the way, pterosaurs are not technically dinosaurs. They’ve just been associated together because of old ideas about “primitive” animals living many millions of years ago.

Why are dinosaurs and pterosaurs not nearly as common today as they were in the past? Look to the one major cause of complete extinction: human interference. Let the present be the key to the past and recognize how easy it would have been, over thousands of years, for humans to have destroyed many species of dinosaurs and pterosaurs.

Most reported sightings of dinosaurs appear to be confined to certain areas of central Africa and Papua New Guinea. Yet over the past 14 years, I’ve received reports from eyewitnesses from five continents, from persons of various backgrounds, who have seen apparent modern pterosaurs. It seems that the “primitive” animals that can fly through the air have survived extinction and expanded their ranges worldwide, although they seem to be at least somewhat rare and mostly nocturnal.


This photograph (Ptp) deserves a much closer look. It appears to support the many eyewitnesses who report large featherless flying creatures in a number of areas of the world, including North America. We need to look past old 19-century dogmas about universal extinctions of all species of dinosaurs and pterosaurs. Keep an open mind to new discoveries.


copyright 2017 Jonathan David Whitcomb


Pterodactyl in a Civil War photograph

Someone looking for evidence of Civil War reenactment may have little difficulty noticing one or more problems with the photo on the right. That’s a hoax-photo, made to promote the Freakylinks TV series . . .  The photo on the left, however, is older, apparently seen by many readers of a book in the mid-20th century.

Live pterosaur in a photo

Introduction to the Civil War photograph, comparing it to a hoax-photo, with a short history of living-pterosaur investigations regarding credibility

Ropen-pterosaur or “dinosaur bird”

The photo shown here, recently given the label of “Ptp,” has been declared to have a genuine image of a modern pterosaur. The proclamation was given by the physicist Clifford Paiva and the cryptozoology author Jonathan Whitcomb on January 14, 2017.




Jonathan Whitcomb's third edition of "Live Pterosaurs in America" - nonfiction cryptozoology genre - sightings of "pterodactyls" still living

Live Pterosaurs in America (third edition), nonfiction cryptozoology book


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North American Dinosaurs Dated by Carbon-14

green dinosaur

In recent years, dinosaur bones have been dated using radiometric carbon-14 methods, something almost never attempted before. Why is this testing relatively new? It was previously assumed by many scientists that all dinosaurs became extinct by at least tens of millions of years ago. Some critics continue to hold onto that opinion.

Yet a number of dinosaur fossils excavated in North America have been 14C dated to well below the ceiling level for those testing methods, with none of the materials over 40,000 years old, according to the rigorous methods used. This deserves attention.

types of dinosaurs dated by c-14

From the newgeology-dot-us web site

Dinosaur Bones Excavated in Montana

Notice the data from carbon-14 dating of two Triceratops dinosaurs: both were found in Montana. The margin for error is mostly small in these test results, most being plus-or-minus 80-200 years. Critical is the general age calculation: between 24,340 and 39,230 years before the present (BP). If these two animals had lived many millions of years ago (in what is now Montana,) there would no longer be any sign of any carbon-14, yet the testing showed the presence of that isotope (14C).

Other dinosaur remains, excavated in North America, show similar results from the radiometric carbon testing.

Scientific Discussion and Censorship

Few critics have said much in direct response to the censored lecture-abstract on the official web site of the 2012 Western Pacific Geophysics Meeting in Singapore. Apparently those who would prefer keeping in the dark of 19th-century ideas about dinosaur extinction (before humans)—those critics write mostly about a very few of the earlier datings (by carbon-14 methods), if they write anything at all. The censorship of the scientific lecture appears to suite them just fine.

They refer to publications in 1991 and 1992, which refer to testing or writings from 1979-1990. Do a Google search for information on carbon-14 dating of dinosaurs and notice two different kind of sites:

  1. Those that support C14 dating of dinosaurs
  2. Those that dismiss that testing

You may notice that the second type of web site, if it has many details, refers to criticisms of pre-21st-century testing or it refers to other sites that criticize those earlier datings. What you may never find is a web site that both opposes dating dinosaur remains and discusses details about the recent carbon-14 dating work done on those fossils. It seems that those who want us all to continue believing in ancient extinctions (many millions of years ago) prefer to say nothing about the censorship of a scientific lecture in 2012 in Singapore.


Dating Dinosaur Bones by C14 Methods

Some dinosaurs appear to have lived between 22,000 and 39,000 years ago.

C-14 Dating of Dinosaurs

How do we know that dinosaurs lived much more recently than many millions of years ago? It’s in carbon dating, testing which shows that a number of species lived only tens of thousands of years ago, yes dinosaur species.

Carbon-14 Dating and Dinosaurs

Radiocarbon dating is the most accurate and most verifiable of the radiometric dating systems. Dates for carbon material can often be independently verified by testing something that is known historically, from records of human observations.


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