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FBI: Images Show Dark Truth About Renowned Collector

'He was a grave robber,' says an agent of Don Miller
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 5, 2021 4:20 PM CST
FBI: Images Show Dark Truth About Renowned Collector
In this 2014 file photo, FBI agents work around the home of Don Miller in Waldron, Ind.   (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Kelly Wilkinson)

(Newser) – Amateur archaeologists and collectors have long conducted their own unsanctioned digs at sites around the country, flying under the radar of various laws designed to protect, say, ancient burial grounds of Native Americans. They're called "pothunters," and the ethics are squishy. Now, Vanity Fair explores the life of a man who is the pothunter of all pothunters, the late Don Miller of Indiana. In 2014, the FBI raided his home, which, along with multiple outbuildings, were crammed with an astonishing volume of relics and even human bones that Miller himself had dug up over the preceding decades in the US and abroad. "I stood there and looked around, like, 'You have got to be s-----ing me,'" recalls the FBI's Tim Carpenter of his first visit. The collection dwarfed that of even large museums, some of the items so rare that overwhelmed anthropologists at the scene were crying.

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While the story looks at how Miller obtained his hundreds of thousands of artifacts—and how Carpenter got wind of the collection—the piece also describes never-before-revealed images and home videos made by Miller of his digs. One video shows Miller at a burial cave on Easter Island grinning as he tosses skulls into a bag. Another image shows him lying in a grave. "And in one of the most disturbing shots, a Native American skull cut in half is filled with yellow apples," writes Josh Sanburn. His story also notes that during the FBI seizure at Miller's home, Miller flippantly referred to his collection of bones as a "bunch of dead Indians." Miller, who died before any charges were filed against him, has his share of defenders. But "I want to dispel the notion that Don was a responsible collector," says Carpenter. "He was not. He was a grave robber." (Read the full story.)

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