Thursday 3 April 2014

FBI Examines Antiquities at Rural Indiana Home

Collectors, take care of your documentation of licit origin, this could happen to you.
Here is a story you'll not find discussed on the US collectors' rights lobbyists sites, as it shows the importance, in the US too, of ensuring licit provenance and keeping accurate records of the precise origins of items in an antiquities collection. A team of FBI agents, archaeologists and other experts have raided the home of an Indiana collector, in Rush County in rural central Indiana. They are in the process of removing for examination a large number of artefacts together with documentation. The man's collection has been described as "having immeasurable cultural significance" and runs into thousands of objects. Professor Larry Zimmerman said he was overwhelmed when he saw the size and nature of this collection, comparing it only to some of the largest museums:
An FBI investigation determined that the homeowner, Donald C. Miller, may have knowingly and unknowingly collected objects in violation of several treaties and federal and state statutes, Special Agent in Charge Robert Jones said Wednesday [...] the items, stored in several buildings on the property about 35 miles southeast of Indianapolis, are to be collected, identified and repatriated [while] those that properly belong to Miller are being safeguarded [...].
The man's extensive collection had been amassed over eight decades. It was quite eclectic, and includes not only Native American artifacts and relics but other items from the United States. His artefacts also included items from: "China, Haiti, Australia, Russia, New Guinea, Italy, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Greece, Peru and possibly several other countries". On the video one can see pleistocene fossils as well as several human skulls,a "full skeleton in a case", also World War relics as well as other assorted items of more modern data.
The team was trying to determine the exact time and method of each acquisition. [...]  Miller, 91, told CBS News that he was a lifetime collector who had a museum of hundreds of artifacts in his basement. He said he "absolutely" has rightful ownership of the artifacts and that he was cooperating with the FBI's search. "I have been in 200 countries collecting artifacts," he said. Miller has not been charged with any crime. Television helicopter video showed a mobile FBI command vehicle, a moving van and several tents alongside a two-story home near the town of Waldron. Some 200 people are involved in the process, which could take years.
Many people in the area say they’ve been inside to see the artefacts, and say "he was glad to show them off, and teach a history lesson or two". The Rushville Republican reported that Miller had been part of the project to build the atomic bomb in 1945.

 It is not entirely clear why FBI investigators only took an interest in Mr Miller's collection eight decades on (shades of Kapoor trading under their noses so long before they decided to investigate), but one might speculate that the fact one of his near neighbours was FBI man Paul Bresson might have something to do with it. Collectors, if you live next dfoor to an FBI man, best not to brag and show off your collection.

Donald Miller, Collector

CBS/AP, 'FBI seizes Native American, other artifacts at rural Indiana home', April 2, 2014,

Teresa Mackin, 'Home video shows artifacts in Rush County home', Wednesday, April 2, 2014. [video]

Derrik Thomas, 'Thousands of artifacts seized at Indiana home', Indy Channel, Apr 2, 2014.

UPDATE 3.3.14

It seems ( Andy Proffet, 'FBI working with artifact collector to return items', The Shelbyville News, April 3, 2014 ) that Miller had contacted the FBI himself about returning the items, and the FBI is working with him "to help him repatriate those items to the appropriate folks". It was later reported that the collector visited many of the "200 countries" he had artefacts from as a missionary. 

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