Nernberg sits on the board of the Big Valley Creationist Museum southeast of Red Deer, Alta. He helped establish the museum in 2008, but also works as a heavy equipment operator in Calgary.
The 64-year-old was excavating a basement in March when he caught sight of something special in the bucket of his trackhoe: black outlines of five fish in a block of sandstone.
He contacted a paleontologist and assistant professor at the University of Calgary, Darla Zelenitsky, who assessed the full fossils of a primitive bony, type of fish as an extraordinary find.
She has calculated the fish lived shortly after an asteroid killed off the dinosaurs and many other species, leaving surviving animals and plants to diversify.
Nernberg thinks the fish were most likely to have been alive shortly before the Great Flood in the Bible, about 4,300 years ago.
"We agree to disagree," Nernberg said Thursday after a news conference alongside Zelenitsky to show off the fossils.
"We're quite amicable and really almost friends."
Nernberg said he was taught evolution in school, but later came to reject it. He built a miniature replica of Noah's Ark for the creationist museum.
He believes humans existed at the same time as the dinosaurs, then the Great Flood wiped out almost everything.
"There were dinosaurs that survived the flood, of course, but there may still be some around. We don't know that for sure."
Nernberg said he's not been persuaded by Zelenitsky and other scientists.
"She's been taught through the educational establishment that that's the way it is ... In talking to her, I'm not sure she's actually explored this much."
The fish in the fossils don't look primitive, he added.
"They look like any modern-day fish."
Zelenitsky said everyone is entitled to their own beliefs.
"I'm a scientist, so I basically follow science," she said.
"This just goes to show that anyone can find fossils. There's a lot of amateur fossil hunters out there."
She credits Nernberg with recognizing the fossils were significant and not leaving them in the ground.
The fossils are to be transported to the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, 60 kilometres away from the rival creationist museum. Experts will be better able to examine them there and hopefully identify the fish, said Zelenitsky.
Nernberg said he has been promised replicas for his exhibition, but also hopes the Drumheller facility will put up two plaques near its display: "One with the evolutionary explanation and one with the creation explanation.
"Now that's pretty far-fetched, I think, but you never know."
— By Chris Purdy in EdmontonSuggest a correction