What Lies Beneath: Neely Mansion’s Unique Artifact

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A discussion regarding a blue spruce next to Neely Mansion, a local National Historic Landmark, led to a remarkable and intriguing discovery.

Neely Mansion board members and avid gardeners Carol Grimes and Hilda Meryhew were consulting an arborist regarding the 100+ year old blue spruce next to the mansion. Examining the ground at the base, they discovered a small part of what appeared to be a stone. Carol and Hilda, self-proclaimed rock female dogs, started digging and pulled her out.

Neely Mansion Assn

Filled with hardened earth, the unearthed stone piqued their interest. The pair wiped it down, surprised to discover a central hole and an intriguing carving.

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Discern the origin of the bony ring

Solving the mystery of the sculpted ring is an ongoing project. The area surrounding the mansion and the nearby Green River Valley have been home to several Aboriginal settlements for centuries. Being located at the confluence of Green River and Soos Creek also made the surrounding area an ideal native gathering place.

King County Historic Preservation Program archaeologist Phil LeTourneau observed that it was made of bone. Deer have inhabited the Green River Valley for centuries and natives often worked with deer bones.

A round bone-colored ring with a slight carving, tilted towards the camera by one finger to better show the carvings
Neely Manor Association

Expert advice

Research historian Michael Collins has made the following observations:

The sculpture is similar to the wood anemone flower which has five sepals and grows in Washington. The flower contains an irritant that [the First Nations used] for rheumatism/gout pain. Presumably the ring was worn over an arthritic joint in the hope that the pain would be relieved by acting as a talisman.

A white 6-hawked flower with a yellow center
Wood Anemone | Stockvault

University of Victoria ethnobotanist Nancy Turner presented her thesis, suggesting that the sculpture may have depicted a type of “Earthstar Puffball” mushroom.

4 mushrooms in the grass, two opening in the shape of a 6-pointed star.
Geaster Triplex | Wikicommons

Since indigenous people used the medicinal properties of the Earthstar mushroom and the wood anemone, both theories regarding the background of the ring seem plausible.

This unique artifact represents only a small part of the Aboriginal heritage that has contributed to the traditions, culture and heritage of the greater Green River Valley.

Neely Mansion is open for tours every Saturday from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. until August 27. For more information about Neely Mansion and to plan your visit, go to https://neelymansion.org/

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