Taking history to a new level

Eric Cravey
Posted 8/23/17

JACKSONVILLE – Every time people ask Blue Nelson what he does for a living, he gets the same response – “Oh, that means you dig up dinosaurs.”

Nelson is an archaeologist, but he isn’t …

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Taking history to a new level

Blue Nelson, a Middleburg High graduate and co-host of The History Channel show “Found,” is shown here excavating a midden in downtown Charlotte Amelie in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
Blue Nelson, a Middleburg High graduate and co-host of The History Channel show “Found,” is shown here excavating a midden in downtown Charlotte Amelie in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
Posted

JACKSONVILLE – Every time people ask Blue Nelson what he does for a living, he gets the same response – “Oh, that means you dig up dinosaurs.”

Nelson is an archaeologist, but he isn’t trotting the globe looking for dinosaurs or fighting snakes in a cave like Indiana Jones, the man he calls “our go-to guy” iconic of the occupation. Nelson, a 1995 graduate of Middleburg High School, searches for and examines the arts and heritage of cultures so they can be preserved and later used as a tool for education. He describes his work as being much like that of a detective.

“I fell in love with history very, very early on, so when it came to making a decision on which route [in archaeology], I knew immediately that I wanted to go down the historical route. But, with historic [archaeology], you’ve got written records and documentation, so it’s more like being a detective. You’ve got more evidence that you can use to build your case for your theories and thoughts, so history for me was the no-brainer,” Nelson said.

Nelson’s family moved to Clay County when the Coppergate subdivision was being developed. His father was transferred to Naval Air Station Jacksonville where served as a Corpsman. Nelson enrolled at Middleburg Elementary, and progressed on to Wilkinson Junior High and then Middleburg High.

He said he got hooked on history when he was about 10. He said family vacations were modest and they did everything they could to soak up such venues as Kingsley Plantation, St. Augustine and such places as Andersonville in Georgia.

“We ended up going to Kingsley Plantation and they got these beautiful standing slave cabin ruins and I remember looking at my mother and going, ‘Why aren’t the archaeologists here?’ She said, ‘I don’t know,” so I told her, ‘When I grow up, I’m going to be an archaeologist and I’m coming right back here’,” Nelson said.

After high school, Nelson shipped off to basic training for the U.S. Air Force where he spent four years before returning home to Clay County. He said, after school, he trudged around the construction industry in Clay, Duval and St. Johns counties to provide for his wife and two kids, but he wasn’t happy. He knew he wanted more.

“I had this GI Bill sitting in the bank and it’s going to go away if I don’t use it and I just felt like I’d be doing myself a disservice, especially to the kid that had the dream of being an archaeologist – here it is, this is the opportunity,” said Nelson, who resembles a lumberjack with his beard, tattoos and piercings.

So, at age 23, he enrolled in St. Johns River Community College and later transferred to the University of Florida where he earned two bachelor’s degrees – one in history and one in anthropology. He also went on to get a master’s degree at UF.

“I went and started talking to the archaeologists there that were teaching anthropology classes and I found out that I needed to take a field school and when I was a kid, when we first got to Florida, I went into St. Augustine and we saw open excavation pits in Old Town and that was the first time I saw archaeologists at work – that’s the first time I knew what an archaeologist did,” Nelson said.

As fate would have it, Nelson’s field school was at Kingsley Plantation, a place in which he became enamored as an inquisitive child.

“You’re connecting with the past and the present and the future, all at the same time, it’s pretty neat,” he said.

Now the co-host of the History Channel show “FOUND,” Nelson has traveled across the country examining artifacts people have found to try and determine where they originated or if they are historically significant.

“It’s everyday who people have objects just laying around their house and they have no idea what they are and I’m part of a team of experts that come in and we research these things using archaeological techniques and methods to give these people the answers they’re looking for,” said Nelson who admits he reluctantly joined the show’s cast in 2015 when they began shooting.

Nelson was “pulled into the show” by his co-host and co-worker Michael Arbuthnot. The two men work together in the Jacksonville office of SEARCH Inc., a company that provides various cultural resource management services to governments and other institutions.

Season 1 of FOUND, which is 10 episodes, launched in Canada last October and ended in December, which wasn’t supposed to happen.

Nelson jokes and said Canada apparently didn’t get the memo. Either way, the show sort of went viral and, before he knew it, Nelson was fielding a call from a Portuguese translator telling him the show was being prepped to air in Brazil.

“I’m like, ‘really?’ And then, within in two weeks, we were on everywhere in Latin America, so FOUND has premiered and played the entire season everywhere in the Western Hemisphere except the United States. And then, the guy that voiced me on television contacted me and it was incredible,” Nelson said.

Nelson admits he has had to learn how to deal with certain aspects of television. He said he sometimes cringes when the TV producers try and place a monetary value on items people have found, which runs counter to what archaeology is all about.

“What we found with the show, though, is that obviously, we’re working with a production company that does television and they’re working with archaeologists who do archaeology and we have ethical boundaries as archaeologists that we don’t want to cross – morally, ethically. In television, it’s like, ‘But they would really like this,’ ya know,” Nelson said.

In the show, Nelson said, he has proudly donned a Middleburg High football jersey and on his head is usually found his signature camouflage Florida Gators ball cap giving a nod to his alma mater.

Although Nelson is unsure of whether a Season 2 of FOUND will take place, he hopes viewers will learn more about his profession by watching the show.

“I know it’s going to be television and it’s going to be contrived in some fashion, but if we can just get our foot in the door, we can get on to other episodes or other shows where we’re talking about real archaeology and hopefully promote good cultural resource management,” Nelson said.

Clay County residents can view two episodes on Aug. 26 two episodes on Aug. 30 and two episodes on Sept. 3.

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