Calgary

Alberta creationist discovers rare fish fossils in basement dig

Paleontologist estimates fossils to be 60 million years old, but discoverer says it's more like 4,500 years

Fish fossils uncovered in N.W. Calgary 0:51

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An Alberta man who discovered a school of rare fossilized fish while digging up a Calgary basement believes the world was created by God a few thousand years ago.

It's for that reason Edgar Nernberg doesn't think the fossils could possibly be as old as paleontologists are estimating.

"I subscribe to the creationist position, and I believe they were laid down in Noah's flood, about 4,500 years ago. But we agree to disagree."

Edgar Nernberg

Creationist Edgar Nernberg believes the fossilized fish he found died around 4,500 years ago, when Noah built his ark and God flooded the Earth.

He's referring to Darla Zelenitsky, the University of Calgary paleontologist who was brought in to examine the five ancient fish.

She says they likely swam in waters about 60 million years ago, which is the age of the Paskapoo Formation, a sheet of rock that lies under the city.

"I would give it a 10 out of 10 for significance," said Zelenitsky.

"There's not very many complete fossils known in rocks of this age in Alberta," she said about the fish, which are each about the size of a wallet.

Nernberg helped build the Big Valley Creation Science Museum and said he's good friends with the owner.

According to the museum website, Nernberg donated "one of the more favourite displays" for visitors — the Evidence from Genealogy exhibit — which features scrolls that trace the genealogy of England's King Henry VI back to Adam and Eve.

While Nernberg hasn't lobbied the Alberta government directly to include creationism in the province's school curriculum, he said he has written opinion letters about the topic and sent them to several newspapers.

Nernberg found the near-perfect fossils concealed in a block of sandstone while working at his day job, excavating the basement of a new home in northwest Calgary.

Zelenitsky said that because the fish lived in a time shortly after the extinction of the dinosaurs, they could answer some questions about evolution.

Fossilized fish wide shot

The five fish fossils were encased in a block of sandstone in the Paskapoo Formation, a 60-million-year-old rock formation that lies under Calgary. (Meghann Dionne/CBC)

"Plants and animals were actually recovering from the extinction at that time, so any fossils, particularly if they're complete, are going to help us reconstruct what was going on in the environment after a major mass extinction."

Nernberg said he has come to "accept the fact that we all have different opinions."

The fossils are en route to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alta., to be studied by paleontologists. 

"It's quite likely that these could be a new species," said Zelenitsky.

If that's the case, Nernberg said, he won't be offended if they're not named after him.

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