Five nearly perfect 60-million-year-old fish fossils found in a block of sandstone in Evanston, Calgary
For Edgar Nernberg, it was just another day on the job site. Little did he know that once his excavator began to rip through the ground below, a snapshot from the past would soon be revealed.
Nernberg, who works for a local excavation company, was busy digging a basement for a new home in the northwest community of Evanston when he noticed something.
“The something I noticed was quite extraordinary, I knew right away that this was different from the other fossils I have uncovered in my many years of excavating and collecting fossils,” says Nernberg, who also happens to have a keen interest in fossils dating back to his childhood growing up on a farm in Manitoba.
“The first seashell fossils I saw were shown to me by my father in the rocks we had to pick off of our farmland in Manitoba, and I’ve been watching for and collecting fossils ever since.”
Ironically, Edgar Nernberg, a young-earth creationist who believes the world is about six thousand years old, had found five separate 60-million-year-old fish in very good condition. Nernberg and three friends had built the first “creation museum” in Canada in Big Valley, Alberta. He was not somebody who just kind of assumed that what he had heard about God creating “heaven and earth” about six thousand years ago might be true. He evidently believed it fervently.
Here’s the Dinosaurs and Humans display from his “creation science museum.” I haven’t been there, and can’t read the text in the picture; but I assume it probably tries to prove that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time during the past 6,000 years. This is a common, but incorrect, belief among such “young earth creationists.”
Dinosaurs actually lived for well over a hundred million years and then mostly went extinct about 66 million years ago. Humans appeared on the planet around 195,000 years ago, or almost 66 million years later.
“I better call a paleontologist.”
He wanted to add these fish to his fossil collection, but Alberta law requires turning them over to a university or a museum. A real museum. (I don’t blame him. I’d want them, too.)
The unearthing of the fossils was a complete surprise. Five nearly perfect fish were concealed in a block of sandstone in the Paskapoo Formation, a 60-million-year-old rock formation that underlies Calgary.
Since moving to Calgary 12 years ago, Nernberg has had the opportunity to excavate hundreds of basements there and in surrounding communities. “In that process I’ve occasionally come across clams, snails, leaf impressions and wood remains embedded in the sandstone. When the five fish fossils presented themselves to me in the excavator bucket, the first thing I said was you’re coming home with me. The second thing was I better call a paleontologist.”
The creationist TV show Genesis Week, which is hosted by a friend of Nernberg, refers to it as “the find of the century.” Well, that’s probably an exaggeration; but it was a pretty important group of fossils. Then they go on and comment correctly that carbon dating cannot show how old it is. They poke fun at the Young Turks, who evidently referred mistakenly to carbon dating in a video about these fish.
There are at least two reasons why carbon dating would not have been appropriate for these 60-million-year-old fish fossils:
- Carbon dating is not suitable for anything more than about 60 thousand years old. A 50-million-year-old rock must be dated by uranium decomposition or any of several other methods.
- Sandstone contains little or no carbon, anyway.
Strangely, after making their correct comment about carbon dating, they describe how carbon dating shows all their supposedly millions-of-years-old fossils to have formed between 5,000 and 50,000 years ago and claims this shows they were all laid down about the same time. It does not, of course.
Hello, Genesis Week. Get them dated using the proper methods by scientists who know what they’re doing. Then tell us how old they are and what it means.
Nernberg contacted Darla Zelenitsky, paleontologist and assistant professor at the University of Calgary.
“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,” says Zelenitsky. “These fossil fish are important because they are very primitive representatives of a large group of bony fish known today.”
“Bony fish” includes most common fish like trout, perch, goldfish, catfish, and tuna. The group does not include sharks, rays, and their relatives, which have only cartilage for skeletons. Their lineage split from bony fish early, and are surprisingly more closely related to humans and other mammals than they are to the bony fish.
Shedding light on a period of mass extinction
This find will allow researchers to learn more about a time period following a major mass extinction that occurred around 66 million years ago that killed off 75 per cent of all species, including the non-avian dinosaurs.
“It’s really important that fossil findings be brought to the attention of a paleontologist at a major university or museum so they can be assessed, cleaned and properly cared for,” says Zelenitsky. “Although sometimes fossils can be difficult to recognize while embedded in rock, significant finds can be made by anyone virtually anywhere in the province.”
All fossils in Alberta are property of the province, not of the landowners or the individuals who find them.
“Picking fossils up from the ground surface, or surface collection, is allowed in Alberta only with landowner permission,” says Zelenitsky. “However, removing or excavation of fossils from the ground can only be done by a professional paleontologist with a permit.”
The 60-million-year-old fish fossils will now go to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, where they will be cleaned, studied by scientists, and probably go on display.
Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis made his usual snarky type of remark, “But here is a creationist who did real observational science (probably better than what many evolutionists would do) by recognizing the fossil he discovered—and a world-class one at that.”
Ken, this creationist was NOT doing science. He was making his living by digging a basement for a house! He only gets credit for obeying the law of the land.