BY MICHAEL PLATT, CALGARY SUN
You have to smile, when the greatest fossil discovery in recent Calgary history comes at the end of a backhoe operated by a man known as the greatest promoter of creationism in Alberta.
His name is Edgar Nernberg, and when he’s not sitting on the board of directors of Big Valley’s Creationist Museum or actively lobbying for the inclusion of creationism in Alberta’s school curriculum, Nernberg operates a backhoe in Calgary.
It was in the seat of that machine that Nernberg made the discovery being hailed by scientists in Alberta as one of the most important fossil finds in decades, helping to solve an evolutionary puzzle dating back 60 million years.
Not that Nernberg is buying that date for a second: To him, the five perfectly preserved fossil fish, found while excavating a basement in northwest Calgary, are just more proof of a world created by God only a few thousand years ago.
“No, it hasn’t changed my mind. We all have the same evidence, and it’s just a matter of how you interpret it,” says Nernberg.
An avid collector of fossils and old specimens in his quest to bolster belief in a world said to be around 6,000 years old, Nernberg has donated time and exhibits to the Bible-promoting museum in Big Valley.
The museum, meant to counter the popular Royal Tyrrell in Drumheller, explains how dinosaurs and humans co-existed, and how stories like Noah’s Flood have geological backing.
It’s hard work in a world where evolution and a timeline measured in the billions of years is widely accepted — but Nernberg says he doesn’t mind, knowing his point of view is the right one.
“There’s no dates stamped on these things,” he says, sharing a good-humoured chuckle about a discovery that has him working alongside the ideological enemy, so to speak.
Knowing his discovery will help research at the Royal Tyrrell? Nernberg just laughs harder. “Yes, that’s right,” he says.
On Thursday, the University of Calgary will officially unveil the five priceless fish, which might have been chips had Nernberg not noticed them.
It’s bound to be a very interesting meeting of minds, as Nernberg stands with officials from the university to show off the find.
But no matter what their differences, the science side is grateful.
“Most people would have overlooked these — when these were uncovered, Edgar right away recognized them,” says Darla Zelenitsky, paleontologist and assistant professor of geoscience at the University of Calgary.
“He was excavating a basement when he saw them, so it was a total fluke. He’s apparently interested in fossils, and that’s probably how he saw them. An ordinary person might have just seen blobs in the rock.”
The fish, each about the size of an iPhone, were last swimming around roughly 60 million years ago, in the era immediately after a massive asteroid strike wiped out the dinosaurs.
That’s if you accept science.
Zelenitsky does of course, and so will the scientists at the Tyrrell, where the fossils are bound as property of the province.
Generally called bony-tongue fish — the specific type has yet to be determined — these particular prehistoric piscines died in a fortunate spot, at least as far as the future was concerned.
“The rocks under Calgary are about 60 million years old so they are younger than the rocks we find in Drumheller, where we find dinosaurs,” said Zelenitsky.
“It’s really uncommon, and these are complete fossil fish — and it’s not very often we come across complete fossils in the Calgary area. I only know of a couple of occurrences in the past few decades, actually.”
Not surprisingly, Nernberg says he’d love to get one of the fish for the Creation Museum collection, and he’s asked for a cast of what he’s calling the discovery of a lifetime.
“If I had my druthers, I’d want them in the (Creationist) museum. This is certainly the coolest thing I’ve found over the years,” said Nernberg.
On that, both sides can agree.