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Pottery and metal artifacts.

Massive Stash of Illegal Artifacts and 1000s of Human Bones Recovered From Indiana Man’s Basement Collection

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The FBI’s art crime unit has announced that during a multi-year investigation it has uncovered a staggering hoard of stolen antiquities. The haul of antiquities was huge, and it included a large number of human bones and artifacts that have been illegally taken from sites around the globe. The find shows the lack of respect for the dead among those that illegally dig at historical sites. The FBI and others are hoping to return all the bones back to their descendants or place of origin.

A Haul of Stolen Antiquities and Human Remains

The FBI after a tip-off raided the home of Don Miller in Indiana in the American Mid-West in 2014. What they found in this rather typical home was astonishing and it stunned even experienced FBI investigators. Miller, who was in his late eighties at the time of the raid, had a hoard of several thousand items from a variety of historical periods. According to the Springfield News-Sun, Miller “had about 42,000 items” stashed in his house. The full extent of the discovery has only recently been revealed.

Miller had collected enough antiquities to have opened up his own museum. According to the Indy Star, the stash of antiquities included “Aztec figurines, Ming Dynasty jade, and an Egyptian sarcophagus”. Approximately half of the collection comes from cultures in the Americas and the rest comes from the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. There were even two Mammoth tusks in the collection.

Egypt sarcophagus. (Boggy / Adobe)

Egypt sarcophagus. (Boggy / Adobe)

Don Miller was a well-respected figure in his community in Rush County, Indiana and he came from a prominent farming family. He was a popular character who was a good neighbor and renowned for his philanthropy. For example, he made several trips to Haiti to help local people as they struggled with poverty and natural disasters. He died at the age of 91 in 2015 and was believed to have been assisting the authorities at the time of his death.

Desecrated Burial Grounds

Miller was an enthusiastic amateur archaeologist and traveled extensively to find historic artifacts. According to the Springfield News-Sun, Miller “conducted digging expeditions on both U.S. and foreign soil over the years in violation of antiquities laws”. The antiquities thief had been amassing his collection for years and he had several run-ins with the law abroad and had even spent a night in jail in Mexico. It seems that, despite his vast collection, he never came to the attention of the US authorities.

Archaeological dig / excavation site. (Krugloff / Adobe)

Archaeological dig / excavation site. (Krugloff / Adobe)

Bones Among the Antiquities

The FBI was shocked by the number of looted artifacts, but they were repulsed by the many bones that they found. The Springfield News-Sun reports that “2,000 human bones -- belonging to at least 500 people - among an Indiana man’s stash of stolen antiquities from around the world”.

It seems that on his many expeditions the collector had dug up human remains from graveyards and burial sites. The theft of so many bones is unusual as most thieves are only interested in objects and artifacts. Miller had no regard for the dead and simply treated human remains as any other artifacts.

Many of the bones discovered in the house, belonged to members of Native American tribes, possibly the majority. The theft of so many bones has upset many Native American communities because they have a special reverence for their dead. The veneration of the dead is very important in Native American spirituality and religious beliefs.

Native American Indian praying for dead ancestors. (Cisek Ciesielski / Adobe)

Native American Indian praying for dead ancestors. (Cisek Ciesielski / Adobe)

The FBI is committed to returning the bones to their descendants, if possible. This is standard US government policy. The Bureau is working with anthropologists to return as many bones as possible to their descendants and original burial places. Information provided by Miller, before his death is also helping them in this process. However, it may be difficult to identify all the bones and even if the FBI does, it could be many years before they are returned to their original homelands or place of burial.

Some of the bones designated to be returned originally came from an Akriana burial site in North Dakota. An Akriana tribal official told the Springfield News-Sun that for too long our dead ancestors “have been treated as curiosities rather than a people here.” This official is working with the FBI on returning the bones to North Dakota where they will be reburied in a ceremony. The Akrianas numbers have been in decline for some years and their language is in danger of extinction and the return of their dead is of great significance to the remaining members of the tribe.

Top image: Pottery and metal artifacts. Source: FBI Photo via Chicago Tribune

By Ed Whelan



Terry Edwards's picture

This stuff is a stolen hoard of illegal, blah, blah, blah, but the museums filled with similar are okay. People should learn they need to get a degree before they loot!

Terry Edwards

This man more than likely had a mental illness and these acts of desecration are shameful.

I believe it should be the Arikara (a-RIK-a-ra) tribe/nation.

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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