Thumbs, Thefts, & You:
Stolen Stone Stuff!

The Case Of the Missing Thumb


A 2,000-year-old terracotta warrior from China had one of its thumbs stolen while in an American museum. The suspected thief was caught on camera sneaking into the warrior’s exhibit, taking a selfie with the statue, and then breaking off its thumb.  The camera then caught him pocketing the terracotta thumb and taking it.

Not important but also interesting:  the thief burgled the museum during an ugly0-sweater party being held there!

On the way home from the party, a suspect named Michael Rohana bragged to his friends about successfully stealing part of a warrior. A month later the FBI went to his house and questioned him which lead to the return of the missing thumb. As a result he was charged with multiple crimes including “concealment of an object of cultural heritage stolen from a museum” (meaning that he knew the thumb was stolen from the museum yet he kept it like it was his own belonging.)

The warrior statues were discovered by a Chinese farmer in 1974 but originally date all the way back to 209 BC.  Sculptures like the one that had its thumb stolen were created in order to protect the tomb of China’s first emperor. At the time of the theft, the statue was worth $4.5 million. Additionally China has to send two experts to the United States to try and repair the thumb.

Chinese officials and citizens are upset at both the museum and the United States for the lack of security for the sculptures and for failing to protect the warrior from harm. Users of China’s Facebook-like service Weibo left critical comments about the incident, including one user who noted that the warriors “are kept far away from the public” (in China) and asked “How come the sculptures in Philadelphia are not displayed inside glass cases?”

The man – Michael Rohana – made a quick decision to mess with the terracotta warrior’s display to try and impress his friends.  Now he has to face consequences starting with going to court, though he’s likely to face much worse than that!


1) Given the fact that the damaged item was originally worth $4.5 million and that the thumb portion of it was taken illegally, what are the lowest criminal charges or consequences the suspect can face (if they were charged in Nevada)?

2) The artifact was being borrowed while it was damaged.  If China decides to take action against the US, what court would the case be taken to (China’s? American Federal Court? An American State Court?)  and what charges could the US government face, if any?  If not the government, who would end up in court and why would it be a criminal or civil case (pick one or the other and explain why you chose that way)? 

3) Everyone know of someone (maybe even themselves) who’ve just done what the thumb-thief did: failed to think about the consequences and just quickly acted on an impulse.  What is something you saw – or even did – that could have resulted in a lot of big trouble all because you or that person you saw just didn’t stop to think, and then act?  What could the consequences have been?

Be sure to provide full explanations for each of your answers. For more details, you can read the article this piece was sourced from here:

Contributed by  – J. Plummer

art, art law, Civics Education, Fun Civics, Fun Civics Education, impulse, Law Related Education, legal questions, LRE, museum, museum law, PBtR, Play By the Rules, Project REAL, Project REAL NV, Project Real Org, ProjectREALOrg, sculpture, statue, terracotta,

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