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Jax Daily Record Friday, Jun. 24, 202201:00 AM EST

Archaeologist Blue Nelson: From TV star to a new role at Terracon

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The Southside resident starred in “Found” on the History Channel and “America’s Lost Vikings” on the Science Channel.
by: Dan Macdonald Staff Writer

If your child loves to play in the dirt, it could lead to a life of world travel, discovery and even a television career.

That’s the life Blue Nelson dug up for himself.

Nelson, who turns 46 within days,  starred in “Found” on the History Channel and “America’s Lost Vikings” on the Science Channel.

As of June 6, he joined Terracon in Jacksonville as group manager for archaeology. He works with projects throughout Florida and most of Georgia.

“I’ve been drinking from a fire hose ever since I started. There is so much information to take in. I haven’t experienced anything like this since basic training,” Nelson said.

“You can dig 10,000 holes and not find anything. But when you find something, it re-energizes you to dig another 10,000 holes,” Blue Nelson said.

Terracon is a consulting engineering firm specializing in environmental and geotechnical services.

Terracon, based in Olathe, Kansas, near Kansas City, has more than 175 locations throughout the nation, including in Jacksonville.

Nelson’s responsibilities include bringing in new business. Besides his experience, his celebrity doesn’t hurt when approaching new clients, said Chris McIntyre, office manager and principal at Terracon’s Jacksonville site in Deerwood  Center.

“We wanted to take our archaeology services to the next level,” he said.

“When I have spoken to clients about him it definitely piques their interest. He is definitely more than just an archaeologist.”

Nelson’s new supervising job keeps him in the office and his hands clean. 

He schedules crews, researches archaeological sites and findings, and evaluates projects. It’s a new phase in his career.

“I played in the dirt for a living. I dug holes,” he said.

Career comes full circle

His journey into archaeology has a history.

The Nelsons lived in Middleburg when his father was stationed at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.

As the family took daytrips to St. Augustine when he was 11 or 12 years old, he became fascinated by the archaeologist work done in what is marketed as the nation’s oldest city. 

Nelson schedules crews, researches archaeological sites and findings, and evaluates projects. It’s a new phase in his career.

Subsequent trips to Kingsley Plantation were interesting, but he did not see any archaeologists exploring the land around the slave cabins.

“I remember telling myself that when I get older, I am going to do archaeology on those cabins,” he said.

After graduating from Middleburg High School, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force Security Services. Upon his discharge he worked in construction and decided at age 30 to take advantage of military benefits and enrolled in the University of Florida archaeologist program.

While a student, his field school took him to Kingsley Plantation, where archaeological work was being done around the cabins.

“I met people who were like me. These people were smart and they wanted to learn,” he said.

Nelson’s career has been one of passion and serendipity. 

While in college, Environmental Services Inc. in Jacksonville offered him a job during school breaks. 

Upon graduation, Nelson was offered a job. He worked there for about three years before striking out on his own to work for other firms and start his own company, Blue Nelson and Associates.

Three years ago, Terracon merged with ESI.

A year ago, Terracon bolstered its archaeologist department by incorporating ESI archaeologists.

Today Nelson is working with colleagues from his old ESI days.

Gary Howalt, senior scientific consultant at Terracon, worked with Nelson at ESI in the early 2000s.

“I have tried to hire him back several times over the years. This time we finally had a deal and made it work,” Howalt said.

“I wanted him because of his expertise and work ethic and he’s a nice guy that I like having around.”

Nelson lives in the Southside near the Beaches with his wife, Evan. He has two grown children.

Memorable finds

Nelson’s work took him all over the world to excavate projects.

The work of an archaeologist is one of sweat and patience.

“You can dig 10,000 holes and not find anything. But when you find something, it re-energizes you to dig another 10,000 holes,” he said.

His most memorable find was in Puerto Rico. He was spending his day digging in a trash pit, called a midden, and finding nothing special. It was mostly manatee remains and conch shells. 

Then his shovel hit something hard.

Blue Nelson worked on two TV shows, “Found” that ran between 2016 and 2017 and “America’s Lost Vikings” that ran in 2019.

Using his trowel, he carefully scraped away small bits of dirt to not damage his find. When clean, he realized he has discovered a 10-inch human femur. Not unusual, except that for the carving of a man etched into it.

“It was a man, not a god, because the carving had a belly button,” he said.

What became of it, Nelson does not know. Because it was a human remain, it had to be turned over to local authorities.

He explained that every jurisdiction handles such remains differently. Some will make it a museum piece. Others may bury it with a ceremony.

Archaeologists have a trowel preference and can tell when they are not using their own. Nelson prefers the London style with a shorter blade.

It works best for him when doing delicate work, saying it is like an extension of his wrist and is less likely to cause carpal tunnel problems.

“If someone misplaces it, work will stop and we’ll look all over the place for it,” he said.

When traveling the trowel always goes into a checked bag. However, it frequently draws attention from the Transportation Security Administration.

“There would almost always be a note in my bag letting me know they had been there,” he said.

His choice of footwear was just as important. He found the boots more comfortable and efficient when compared with ordinary work shoes.

“They were snake-proof and you don’t have to bend over and tie them repeatedly when walking through the brambles,” he said.

Digging into TV

Nelson’s television career came to him. He didn’t seek it out.

Mike Arbuthnot, a fellow archaeologist, was involved and invited him to become part of the “Found” cast. The show ran for 10 episodes between 2016 and 2017. 

“America’s Lost Vikings” was a six-episode program in 2019.

The premise of “Found” was that a team of archaeologists would trace an artifact’s history.

Nelson continues to retain an agent in Hollywood and said he would like to do more television.

“I can teach anybody about archaeology. But I can’t teach passion. TV was very easy for me. I got rave reviews from the producers. My passion comes across,” he said.

The hardest part was taking 10 minutes of information and reducing it into usable sound bites for the editors to use.

Arbuthnot and Nelson worked together at ESI. Arbuthnot was confident Nelson had the knowledge and the personality to make it on television.

“People are attracted to his magnanimous personality. They are attracted to his presence. I was right.”

Arbuthnot is a vice president at SEARCH Inc., the largest contract archaeologist company in the U.S. 

He still works with the National Geographic network. He would not hesitate to bring the team back together if another TV opportunity presented itself.

“We hosted two television series together and the audience liked him more than me in both cases.”

The background of ‘Blue’

Being a celebrity archaeologist is almost as unusual as his name. 

Blue is not a nickname. It’s on his birth certificate. His full name is Shannon-Blue Nelson. 

Fans call the burly, multi-tattooed digger “The Dirt Beast.”

His mother is from Essex, England, and loved the name Shannon. His father not so much. He preferred Blue, which was the name of a character on the American television western “The High Chaparral.” Thus the compromise.

“You’ve heard of the song, ‘A Boy Named Sue’? Let me tell you about a boy named Blue. I grew up with gravel in my gut and the spit in my eye. Johnny Cash was right.”

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