Originally published by The Guardian on May 27, 2015 (link)
Written by Amanda Holpuch
Alberta man who discovered a rare fish fossil is happy to display it in a museum, even if he takes issue with scientists’ stance: ‘We agree to disagree’
If a Canadian museum decides to exhibit a recent fossil discovery, the man who found it, Edgar Nernberg, hopes it will be displayed with two plaques. One would contain local paleontologists’ explanation, that the fossil is around 60 million years old. The other would explain Nernberg’s view that his find is from the past 6,000 years, after the world began.
Nernberg is a long-time excavator, fossil collector and creationist. He believes in the biblical history of the creation of the world, not the scientifically accepted one. The Calgary Sun newspaper, to which he has sent between 30 and 40 letters on the subject, has said he is the “greatest promoter of creationism in Alberta”.
Fossils found in Alberta are the property of the province, but in keeping with Canada’s trademark reasonableness, Nernberg said he was comfortable with his find going to scientists whose beliefs were “diametrically opposed” to his.
“We agreed to disagree but we’re amicable about it,” he said.
Nernberg’s discovery – which he called a “10 out of 10” and the University of Calgary described as “astounding” – is roughly 4ft-square and includes five fossilized fish. Nernberg found it while digging a basement for a new home in the Paskapoo Formation, a roughly 60-million-year-old rock formation under Calgary.
“The first thing I said to myself is: ‘You’re coming home with me,’” said Nernberg. “The second thing I said is: ‘I’m going to have to get a fishing license.’”
Nernberg contacted paleontologist Darla Zelenitsky about the fossil. She said it was one of the only fish fossil finds in Calgary in the last few decades.
“Because complete fossils are relatively rare from this time period in Alberta, any such discoveries are significant as they shed light on the nature and diversity of animals that lived not long after the extinction of the dinosaurs,” said Zelenitsky, an assistant professor at the University of Calgary, in a statement.
“These fossil fish are important because they are very primitive representatives of a large group of bony fish known today.”
Nernberg said he was happy his fossil was going to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, even though the museum uses scientific explanations of the world with which he fundamentally disagrees.
“Yeah, I’d like to maintain possession of it, but then only a few people would see it,” he said.
This is why the fossil will not be on display at the Big Valley Creationist Museum, which is about 70 kilometers away. Nernberg donated money to help create the museum, which includes a replica of Noah’s Ark that he built. The museum’s exhibits are designed to provide geological proof of the great flood described in the Bible and show that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time.
Nernberg believes the science museum has the best tools to prepare and maintain his fish fossil. The museum has invited him to watch the process and is making him a replica of his find.
When it does go on display though, he hopes two plaques will account for the fossil’s history.
“I would hope they would do it willingly,” he said.