JACKSONVILLE – Americans love Vikings and archaeologist Blue Nelson has few theories on why. One is the gratuitous violence.
“Everybody wants to be a Viking because it’s really badass. But what’s badass about being a farmer? That’s what most of them were. These warriors were generally guys who said, ‘Listen, we have a shelf life in this battle because we have to go deal with our crops,’” Nelson said.
Nelson, who attended Middleburg High School and served in the military, is in the middle of his second TV show, “America’s Lost Vikings,” which airs Tuesdays on The Science Channel. The six-part series examines America’s relationship with the Norse clans, their activities on the continent and what it meant to be a Viking.
For the show, Nelson traveled to Newfoundland, New England, Greenland and Iceland. On his wall are two gorgeous panoramic photos of the Greenland and Canadian wilderness and a replica of a Native American arrow. Nelson and co-host Mike Arbuthnot tested weapons and the Viking chainmail that chipped the arrow’s tip.
“That arrow will be in episode three,” Nelson said. “I was hoping it would do more damage against the chainmail. It would be similar to being on the end of a bullet wearing a Kevlar vest.”
Most Americans don’t know Vikings beat Christopher Columbus to the continent. Or that Columbus never stepped foot on the American continent at all. During the Revolutionary War, Nelson said American colonists saw Columbus as a hero to agitate and distance themselves from the British. “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” is catchy, added Nelson, who works for the Jacksonville office of a worldwide archaeology company.
Nelson read pages written in Icelandic annals from 1353, 350 years after their arrival in North America, where a boat traveled off course and landed in Iceland. The description of the ship was mundane, which lead Nelson to conclude that the trans-Atlantic trip was more common than he previously thought.
“We look at it as a static time. I realize it wasn’t just this moment in time the Vikings came. The Northeast was a resource colony for them,” Nelson said. “They decided they didn’t have to live there.”
He said he has Danish blood on his father’s side, and he was able to trace his mother’s ancestry back to a noble Saxon line. Nelson referred to how he landed the show as anti-climactic – he was asked by a colleague what his next ideal assignment was. He told him about Vikings in North America, and he got a call from a media company about the show a few hours later.
“I still don’t know how hard it is to get a television show because they’ve come looking for me,” Nelson said with a laugh.
History made sense to Nelson at an early age. He moved to Middleburg in 1988 and cultivated a love of the outdoors in the backwoods. He recalled an excavation in St. Augustine he witnessed at 13.
“My mother told me, ‘This is how we know what people did here,’” Nelson said.
His favorite period of history to study is the African-American experience during the Jim Crow era from the end of Reconstruction to the 1970s. In his youth, he wondered why Kingsley Plantation wasn’t being dug to learn how slaves lived. That was a project he did while attending the University of Florida.
“It came full circle. To me, (the Jim Crow-era South is) the most fascinating period. If you think about the experiences of African-Americans during that period, they had very little resources, nobody was coming to save them,” Nelson said. “How do you treat somebody so badly, they still go despite they fight for their family that lives in that country (during World War II). I think that spirit is incredible to me.”
Aside from a Season two of “America’s Lost Vikings,” Nelson said he’d love to do a “Dirty Jobs”-esque series, that showcases blue collar America.
“We need a new Mike Rowe (the host of “Dirty Jobs”). I think we’re on the cusp of a blue-collar revolution. I don’t care where you stand politically. One of the things that’s frustrated me the last couple of years with either administration has been the fact of, ‘Oh, they’re destroying the country, let’s make America great again.’” Nelson said.
“Those are politicians talking. This country is great, it’s always been great, and it’s never been great because of our politicians. It’s great because of the people that keep it running. We need to highlight that. I want to have a television show that highlights and celebrates blue collar workers. That’s my goal.”