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Cache of artifacts found in Indiana returned to China

More than 360 artifacts taken from a Rush County farm in 2014 are headed back to China.

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - It's a collection worthy of its own museum.

More than 360 artifacts taken from a Rush County farm in 2014 are headed back to China.

The collector, 91-year-old Donald Miller, amassed a collection of tens of thousands of items from around the globe. Artifacts from China to Puerto Rico and Russia to Australia were no secret to his friends, neighbors and school children who took field trips to his farm to view the display.

"He had a head with an arrowhead stuck in it, like a skull and all kinds of Indian artifacts from arrowheads to hatchets to peace pipes to just anything," said neighbor Joe Runnebohm.

Experts say much of what he collected came before laws and treaties about such artifacts were in place.

In 2013, though, a tip to the FBI revealed Miller also had hundreds of human remains that were not on display, a collection that surprised even seasoned experts.

"I'm frankly overwhelmed. I've never seen a collection like this in my entire life," said Larry Zimmerman.

Before he died in 2015, Miller agreed to return the items he likely obtained illegally, which led to the massive operation on his property in 2014. In all, the FBI acquired 7,000 artifacts, most still stored in a warehouse outside Indianapolis.

With the help of the anthropology department at IUPUI, the items were documented and preserved to hopefully one day be returned to their countries of origin.

"This has been a one-of-a-kind opportunity for my students," said Dr. Holly Cusack-McVeigh, associate professor of anthropology and museum studies at IUPUI.

Thursday, officials from the U.S. and China signed a repatriation agreement to send the Chinese artifacts back to that country.

"It's incredibly important. It's important because of our current climate politically. And it's also important because our Chinese counterparts care deeply about their cultural heritage," Cusack-McVeigh said.

In addition to the artifacts that are now heading back to China, others have been sent back to Columbia and Peru. But there are thousands more still being processed.

The human remans were taken from Native American burial grounds and the FBI is working with those tribes to return them for proper burial.