By the living-pterosaur researcher Jonathan D. Whitcomb
Last week, I found an early source for the photograph we now call “Ptp.” It was published by Underwood & Underwood, a company that sold many thousands of photographs from 1881 through about 1920. This is a significant fact that counts against the possibility that any hoax was involved in the origin of this photo. Consider the following images:
Evidence that the photograph “Ptp” is very old, quite likely from the 19th century
Background on the photo of a modern pterosaur
This photograph has been known for many decades. Tom Payne, a builder of canoes who also has experience in computer technology, has known about Ptp since he was a young man, which was before personal computers existed. In other words, Payne was aware of this old photo before there was a Photoshop.
Tom Payne building a canoe
So how does canoe building relate to an old photograph of a modern pterosaur? It’s the impression those two wings gave me long ago, perhaps as long ago as 1968, although my memory is imprecise.
One of my earliest impressions, on looking at this photograph, was that those apparent wings look like the ends of two canoes. That kept me from taking the Ptp photo seriously for a long time. Tom Payne, in January of 2017, told me that those were not canoes, and he’s the expert. He convinced me that my first impression was incorrect.
That’s when I decided to look more closely into this apparently old photograph. I contacted Clifford Paiva, a physicist living in central California, who had started examining it years earlier. As I saw the accumulating evidence for the authenticity of Ptp, I came to an agreement with Paiva that this had a genuine image of a real animal, and it obviously looked like a pterosaur. Yet one skeptic continued to doubt its authenticity, holding onto his assumption that it was a hoax.
How old is this photograph of a modern pterosaur?
Early in 2017, we had only evidences in the photo itself, indicating Ptp was quite old. Paiva found what appeared to be a stabilizing prop under the beak of the creature, showing the photograph was probably taken before 1870. Before that year, it took many seconds to take a photo, and subjects often had to be kept motionless through one or more stabilizing props. Within a few weeks, Paiva had found other apparent props under the wings, adding to the evidence that the photo was taken in the 19th century.
Early in June of 2017, I found that Ptp was published by Underwood & Underwood, a company that at one time produced 10 million stereoscopic images each year, many of which were photographs taken before 1920. In fact, in the year 1920 they went into another line of the photography business. The point it this: It was in the earlier line of business that Ptp was most likely published by them, for their later line of work would have had little use for Ptp. (By the way, Underwood & Underwood ceased doing business altogether in the 1940’s.)
Also significant is the following: The Ptp photo is not, apparently, in the regular archives of Underwood & Underwood, meaning it’s unlikely that they themselves took the photograph. That means it could very well have been taken before the year 1881, when the company was founded. In other words, Ptp could have been older than the company was, quite possibly older than 1870, which is consistent with the finding by the scientist Clifford Paiva.
Photoshop did not yet exist
Before 2017, a primary skeptical explanation for Ptp was simply that it was a hoax created with the help of digital image manipulation, in particular Photoshop. Paiva and I found significant evidences against that conjecture early in that year. The discovery that it had been published by the old Underwood & Underwood photograph publishers, however, dramatically shot down the Photoshop conjecture and buried it. That software program was developed at the time of early personal computers: late in the 20th century, not in the late 19th century. That hoax conjecture is indeed buried.
Could it have been an old model?
The most vocal skeptic of this photograph has suggested that it was a physical model, constructed to look like a pterosaur. Since the discovery of its publication by Underwood & Underwood, however, that idea now appears to have serious problems, far more serious than the skeptic had imagined.
The skeptic has suggested that a drag mark on the ground could have been from dragging a model into that clearing. That brings up a critical question: Why would any group of soldiers, in or around the late 19th century, construct a realistic model of a pterosaur in the bushes and then drag it into a clearing to be photographed? It’s far more likely that a flying creature, that they had apparently shot, would fall into bushes and need to be dragged into a clearing for the photographer.
Even more damaging to the model-conjecture, however, is this: How did those soldiers construct a realistic model that would stand up to rigorous examination by two scientists, in the early 21st century? Magnification of the outer part of those wings shows an apparent biological structure that cannot easily be explained by referring to any building material available to those men at that time in history.
Wings of the apparent modern pterosaur
Two wings compared with each other
When Paiva and I were examining this photograph early in the year, we each considered the possibility that if a Photoshop hoax were involved then it would have been easier for a hoaxer to invert the image of a wing to make a second wing. That’s when we noticed considerable resemblances between those two wings.
In the image shown above, one wing has been inverted horizontally for comparing it with the other. (This is before any significant magnification is done.) Notice distinct similarities in patterns. That worried us.
But when I magnified those outer parts of the two wings and compared them with each other, similarities dissolved. The pixels showed great diversity. What’s the significance? That is exactly what one would expect of biological structures. Just as two ears on the same human face can appear identical, before magnification, on close inspection they are seen to have great differences: different hairs pointing in different directions and entirely different tiny blemishes in the skin.
Paiva checked my findings and agreed that under greater magnification the apparent similarities become irrelevant: The minute differences prevail, with no evidence of Photoshop wing horizontal-flipping.
But those patterns and structures, in whatever magnification (or lack thereof) one uses, differ significantly from what one would see in a wooden structure. In other words, it is not wooden: Those were not model wings but actual wings, as best as I can tell, and it seems that no skeptic has yet come up with anything disputing that finding (as of June 5, 2017).
And what about the wing folding on that apparent Pteranodon? How would 19th century soldiers know to make those wings in a realistic way, with pterosaur-wing-folding? Even a typical scientist of that time period would know nothing about that detail in how some pterosaurs fold their wings when standing or walking. The knowledge of that kind of wing folding became common among paleontologists by around the late 20th century, not in the 19th century.
A forensic videographer has announced his discovery of an old source for the photograph that is labeled “Ptp.” On June 2, 2017, Jonathan Whitcomb, of Murray, Utah, found that the photo was published by Underwood & Underwood, which was a leading company in photography from the late 19th century until at least the 1920’s.
Please bear with me, for this introduction is essential to understanding the value of photographic evidence for modern living pterosaurs. The credibility of an individual piece of evidence is one thing; overall credibility is something else. We’ll get to a photo of a non-extinct pterosaur soon enough.
The skeptic says, “Whitcomb goes so far as to propose that the FreakyLinks producers engaged in a pre-meditated, anti-YEC plot,” but I have never said anything of the kind. I have never written anything like that. He may have assumed that anyone who has written anything supporting the Ptp photograph as genuine must be me. I have seen one or two web sites that promote that conspiracy theory, but I was never involved in writing anything on those sites.
A modern pterosaur!? How could it be? Extraordinary but true, huge flying creatures, with no feathers yet unlike any bat, live among us, although they mostly fly at night. In Papua New Guinea, on Umboi Island, the giant long-tailed pterosaur is called “ropen,” although it has other names elsewhere.
Share in the excitement as one piece of evidence after another accumulates in favor of “Ptp” being a pre-1870 photograph of a modern pterosaur. Some evidences were independently discovered by two men (a physicist and a forensic videographer) who later shared their similar findings with each other, verifying the authenticity of Ptp.