INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A man who housed thousands of international artifacts, including shrunken heads and Ming Dynasty jade, in his rural central Indiana home remains free, although federal agents have determined some of the items likely belong elsewhere, the FBI said Wednesday.
Don C. Miller, 91, owns two homes in Rush County that visitors say are connected by an underground tunnel containing much of his collection, including Native American arrowheads, human skulls and a 60-foot anaconda skin. FBI agents began seizing some of the artifacts last week in a massive operation that required large tents to be established on his property about 35 miles southeast of Indianapolis.
It is not entirely clear which, if any, of the items might have been illegally obtained, and the rules regarding the removal or collection of cultural artifacts are complex, involving state, federal and international laws.
“Some of the things he had were improper to possess,” FBI Special Agent Drew Northern said Wednesday. He did not elaborate.
Agents from the FBI’s art crime team left Miller’s home on Monday after confiscating part, but not all, of his massive collection, Northern said. The FBI is making an inventory of the artifacts to determine their legal status, “with the intent of repatriation,” he said. He would not say how many artifacts were removed.
“At no time was Dr. Miller detained, in custody or arrested,” Northern said, adding that the nonagenarian has cooperated with investigators. The U.S. attorney’s office did not return a phone call seeking to determine whether Miller faced any charges, and a check of online court records found no charges against him have been filed.
A phone number listed in Miller’s name rang busy when The Associated Press called seeking comment.
Miller served in the electronics group of the Manhattan Project, which developed the first atomic bomb, according to an Associated Press story that ran in June 1993.
“This is not connected to that involvement in any way,” Northern said.
His collection was no secret; over the years, he took many schoolchildren through tours of it.
Patty Gerstenblith, a professor of law at DePaul University in Chicago, says much depends on whether the objects are considered stolen or were imported with a license. She says international treaties dating back as far as 1987 could come into play. The United States has agreements with 15 countries that prohibit the 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.
News researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed from New York City.
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