INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — FBI agents on Thursday were still removing thousands of artifacts ranging from arrowheads to shrunken heads and Ming Dynasty jade from a house in rural central Indiana.
A 91-year-old man amassed the vast collection over several decades, perhaps since he began digging up arrowheads as a child.
People who had toured Don Miller's Rush County home years before the FBI's arrival Wednesday described it as a homemade museum containing diverse items including fossils, Civil War memorabilia and what the owner claimed to be a chunk of concrete from the bunker in which Adolf Hitler committed suicide toward the end of World War II.
"It was just like a big chunk of cement from when they demolished it or whatever," said Joe Runnebohm, whose plumbing business did work in one of Miller's houses several years ago.
Agents of the FBI's art crime team began loading trucks with artifacts that Donald Miller acquired over the decades from sites as varied as China, Russia and New Guinea. However, the FBI was careful not to say whether they believed Miller had knowingly broken any laws. The FBI's aim is to catalog the artifacts and return them to their countries of origin.
"We're collecting and analyzing with the goal of repatriation," FBI Special Agent Drew Northern said.
The laws regarding the removal or collection of cultural artifacts are extremely complex. State, federal and international laws are involved, Patty Gerstenblith, a professor of law at DePaul University in Chicago. Much depends on whether objects are considered stolen or were imported with a license, and international treaties dating back as far as 1987 come into play. The United States has various agreements with 15 countries that prohibit importation of items that were illegally acquired, she said, and some nations such as Egypt forbid the export of any cultural objects that were dug from the ground.