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Archeologist fears artifact faces increased danger in modern world

The moss covered skystone is surrounded by a wire mesh fence for protection, but is being closed in by development. Photo by Teresa Herriman -
The moss covered skystone is surrounded by a wire mesh fence for protection, but is being closed in by development. Photo by Teresa Herriman
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By Teresa Herriman, The Courier-Herald

The nicest thing Gerald Hedlund could say about the treatment of the skystone artifact he interpreted was that the builders "haven't squished the chain-link fence that surrounds it, as far as I could see."

Hedlund, an archaeologist and retired Green River Community College professor, hadn't been back to the site since development on the housing subdivision began.

He was hired by then-property owner Mike Yanasak to research and interpret the suspected Native American artifact found on the property. Yanasak was interested in selling the land for development, but because the parcel included an archaeological site, research was required and a judge had to review the findings in order to issue building permits.

Although Hedlund had been hired to research the stone, no one asked him to appear at the hearing to present his findings or even informed him of the hearing. "I was very upset when I heard Bonney Lake had issued a building permit," Hedlund said.

Hedlund doesn't restrict his disappointment to the city of Bonney Lake, however. "I was quite angry at the developer," he said. "I thought I had been betrayed by the people I was working for. There are lots within 10 feet of this thing. There should have been much more area left around it."

Typically, a developer is required to leave a safe area around an archaeological artifact and provide public access. A fence has been constructed to protect the stone and public access is available via a small path, but homes are being built close to the artifact, fulfilling the letter, if not the intent of the law.

"I thought it was a joke," Hedlund said derisively. He said he observed construction rigs using the path to reach the building sites, "driving through that area as close to the fence as they could get. It's legal. Development has a lot more power than conservation."

Eventually, Yanasak sold the property to the current developer of Naches Terrace, a 47-lot subdivision near Victor Falls Elementary School in Bonney Lake. The last of the lots are being developed. The developer of record, according to the Bonney Lake planning department is Reich Construction. The phone number provided for the company has been disconnected.

Hedlund describes the artifact as a calendar stone. His research also helped establish that the Puyallup Tribe knew of the existence of the stone.

"I feel really strong regret for interpreting it," Hedlund lamented. "I'm glad I discovered what it was used for." However, he fears that the publication of his findings and subsequent publicity could lead to the destruction of the ancient treasure. His concern is that the more people who know about it, the greater chance for vandalism.

According to Hedlund, the Puyallup Tribe shares his concern for the skystone. "It's the kind of frustration archaeologists and Native Americans deal with all the time," he said. "That was a sacred place."

The stone is not unique in the United States, said Hedlund. Similar stones exist in the southwest, on the east coast and in California. However, he is not aware of another stone like it in Washington state.

The skystone is "a record of what they could observe," Hedlund explained. ""Like a written record." Not all observatories are rock, he said. Often Native Americans drew diagrams on leather they carried with them to measure time.

"The Northwest coastal Indians fished a lot. By making solar observations, they could determine fish runs and when to travel more easily." It was also important that certain rituals be performed at the proper times. "They were very intelligent in managing their lands and lives," he said.

Skystones also could have been used for educational purposes. "There probably would have been an elder in charge of it, who taught others how to use it," Hedlund said.

Although the artifact had been abandoned by the time Hedlund and astro-archaeologist, Dennis Regan, began studying the stone, Hedlund said the Puyallup Tribe had been allowed by the property owner to visit it.

When Hedlund was hired, there were also two old houses on the site. "The rock was right next to their barn," he said. The structures were destroyed to make room for the subdivision.

Today, the stone sits within a chain link fence, nearly obscured by moss and undergrowth. A small tree is pushing its way between the rock and the fence and houses are being constructed in front of the stone. "I feel like it has been desecrated," Hedlund said.

Bonney Lake Deputy Mayor Dan Swatman brought the matter before the city council at a recent workshop, recommending that the city purchase the lots near the stone and create a park. The council discussed the issue, but eventually decided to accept the recommendation of the Greater Bonney Lake Historical Society, that a plaque or interpretive sign describing the stone be erected at the site.

While Hedlund applauds efforts to preserve the stone, he feels a plaque would only create further interest and increase the potential for vandalism. "The more information on it, the worse it becomes," he said.

Teresa Herriman can be reached at therriman@courierherald.com

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