United States Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu Erin McKee today formally handed over to the PNG National Museum and Gallery 133 cultural artifacts recovered from an illegal collection in the United States.
“I am honored to be able to return these artifacts to the people of Papua New Guinea,” said Ambassador McKee. “The incredible cultural diversity of Papua New Guinea is part of the nation’s rich heritage and it is regrettable someone removed these items out of personal desire and without permission.”
The items were part of an extensive collection of artifacts gathered from around the world over several decades by Donald Miller, an amateur archeologist. In the wake of reports that some of the items had been obtained illegally, the Federal Bureau of Investigation Art Crimes Team in 2014 opened an inquiry into the collection. The agency discovered thousands of artifacts in Miller’s private museum. After Miller admitted many of the items had been taken in violation of international antiquities laws, the FBI began the laborious task of returning them to their countries of origin.
“We sincerely thank the government of the United States for returning these items to Papua New Guinea,” said Dr. Andrew Moutu, director of the PNG National Museum and Gallery. “They will form a valuable addition to our collection here and we hope to create an exhibit focused on these objects and their unique journey.”
The artifacts arrived in Papua New Guinea on September 16 and were transported to the museum by the U.S. Embassy and jointly inventoried by Embassy and Museum staff.
“The FBI recognizes the significant role artifacts like these play in a culture’s history and identity. We are honored to return these pieces to the people of Papa New Guinea” said Assistant Director Calvin Shivers of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.