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US returns plundered artifacts to Colombia

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By Agence France-Presse

The United States returned to Colombia Wednesday 38 ancient artifacts plundered over decades by a private American collector described as a “modern-day Indiana Jones.”

The FBI recovered the artifacts — pre-Colombian ceramic pottery from the southern Narino highlands and the Caribbean — after receiving a complaint about the museum-like collection at the home in Indiana of one Donald Miller, a businessman with an interest in archeology.

Investigators found thousands of pieces from China, Colombia, New Guinea and the United States.

“This collector was a modern-day Indiana Jones. Remember that what Indiana Jones did was to steal all manners of cultural patrimony from other countries,” Colombia’s Ambassador in Washington Francisco Santos told reporters during a ceremony at the Colombian Embassy.

“That’s what this man was — but he was a 90-year-old old man with a museum in his home. That was his hobby,” Santos added.

Twenty-nine of the recovered pieces were returned during the ceremony, and 11 more will be delivered in Bogota.

“The items returned today are part of the largest collection of art and cultural property ever recovered by the FBI in the course of a single investigation,” said FBI Special Agent Maxwell Marker.

No charges were brought against Miller, who died shortly after the collection was seized.

“His hobby was to travel around the world picking up these pieces and literally stealing the cultural heritage,” Santos said.

The Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History is set to assess the pieces and try to identify them.

Trafficking in plundered artifacts is particularly destructive because of the loss of valuable knowledge that occurs as well as the physical objects.

“We lose the ability to physically appreciate our heritage,” said Santos.

Jennifer Galt, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, said the objects were so small that they were easy to hide in luggage.

“Although we cannot return these items to their original context and recover that lost information, I am very pleased that the United States can return them to Colombia,” she said.