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What Lies Beneath: Neely Mansion’s Unique Artifact

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A discussion concerning a blue spruce tree next to Neely Mansion, a local National Historic Landmark, led to a noteworthy and intriguing discovery. 

Neely Mansion Board members and avid gardeners Carol Grimes and Hilda Meryhew were consulting with an arborist concerning the 100+year old blue spruce next to the Mansion. While examining the soil at the base, they discovered a small portion of what appeared to be a stone. Self-professed ‘rock-hound’ Carol and Hilda began digging and pulled it out.

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A round bone colored ring with faint carving
Neely Mansion Assn

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

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Discerning the Bone Ring’s Origin

Resolving the mystery of the carved ring has been an ongoing project. The area surrounding the Mansion and the nearby Green River Valley has been home to several Native settlements for centuries. Being located at the confluence of Green River and Soos Creek has also made the surrounding area an ideal Indigenous gathering spot. 

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

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A round bone colored ring with faint carving, angled toward the camera by a finger to better show the carvings
Neely Mansion Association

Expert Opinions

Research Historian Michael Collins offered the following observations:

The carving is similar to the Wood Anemone flower that has five sepals and grows in Washington. The flower contains an irritant that [the First Nations used] for rheumatism/gout pain. It can be speculated that the ring was worn over an arthritic joint in hopes that pain would be relieved by acting as a talisman. 

A white 6 peddled flower with yellow center
Wood Anemone | Stockvault

University of Victoria Ethnobotanist Nancy Turner offered her thesis, suggesting the carving may have represented an ‘Earthstar Puffball’ type of mushroom.

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4 mushrooms in grass, two opening up in a 6 point starlike shape.
Geaster Triplex | Wikicommons

Given that Indigenous Peoples utilized the medicinal properties of the earthstar mushroom and wood anemone, both theories regarding the ring’s background appear plausible.  

This unique artifact represents only a tiny fraction of the Indigenous legacy that has contributed to the Greater Green River Valley’s traditions, culture, and heritage.

Neely Mansion is open for tours each Saturday from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm through August 27. For more information on Neely Mansion and to plan your visit, go to https://neelymansion.org/

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