Legal Issues and Shelby County and Law

Thousands of artifacts seized at Indiana home

April 2, 2014

Authorities seized thousands of Native American, Russian, Chinese and other artifacts that have "immeasurable" cultural value from the private collection of a 91-year-old man in central Indiana, the FBI said Wednesday.

The items, which also came from Haiti, Australia, New Guinea and Peru, were collected by Donald Miller of Waldron over eight decades, FBI Special Agent Robert Jones said at a news conference. Waldron is southeast of Shelbyville in Shelby County, but Miller's home is in Rush County.

"The cultural value of these artifacts is immeasurable," Jones said while refusing to disclose details of any of the individual items taken from Miller's property.

Some items were acquired improperly, but Miller, who traveled extensively, obtained others legally or before laws affecting them were on the books, Jones said. Federal authorities will attempt to repatriate illegal items with their rightful owners, he said.

Miller was cooperating with the investigation. It was unclear whether he would face any criminal charges, Jones said. Miller could not be reached for comment. His home telephone number rang busy Wednesday evening.

Video shot from television helicopters showed an FBI command vehicle and several tents at Miller's property.

Miller stored the items in several buildings on his property.

Larry Zimmerman, a professor of anthropology and museum studies and one of several experts assisting agents in cataloging and preserving the collection, said the quality of the items was variable but Miller had maintained them in good condition.

"I have never seen a collection like this in my life except in some of the largest museums," Zimmerman said.

As the items were assembled over several decades, it will likely take a lot of time to determine the age and origin of all of them.

"Mr. Miller has made an attempt to safeguard and protect the items," Jones said.

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