Last Updated Apr 2, 2014 6:30 PM EDT
WALDRON, Ind. -- A team of FBI agents, archaeologists and other experts are confiscating Native American and other artifacts and relics from a collection described as having immeasurable cultural significance from a home in rural central Indiana, authorities said.
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.
"We know that some of the items were acquired improperly," Jones said.The items, stored in several buildings on the property about 35 miles southeast of Indianapolis, are to be collected, identified and repatriated, he said. Those that properly belong to Miller are being safeguarded, he said. A number of statutes and law may not have been in effect when Miller collected some of the items, he said.
"The exact number of artifacts in the collection is unknown at this time but it's believed to be in the thousands," Jones said. "The monetary value of the entire collection and of its individual pieces is yet to be determined however the cultural value of these artifacts is immeasurable."
Jones said that the extensive collection, which Miller amassed over eight decades, includes Native American artifacts and relics as well as items from the United States, China, Haiti, Australia, Russia, New Guinea, Italy, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Greece, Peru and possibly several other countries.
He said he could not comment on the nature of the items but said that Miller had traveled extensively. He said the team was trying to determine the exact time and method of each acquisition.
Larry Zimmerman, a professor of anthropology and museum studies, said he was overwhelmed when he saw the collection.
"I have never seen a collection like this in my entire life except in some of the largest museums," he said.
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.