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Digging for artifacts lands man in jail

Eddie Lee Ballard

Eddie Lee Ballard

ALBANY, Ga. -- One man's efforts to excavate arrowheads and other Native American artifacts for what investigators claim was commercial gain has landed him in the Dougherty County Jail.

Eddie Lee Ballard, 37, was picked up by Dougherty County sheriff's deputies Wednesday on warrants filed by Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

He' was being held Thursday in the Dougherty County Jail with a $58,000 bond set.

Capt. Jeff Swift, with the DNR's Law Enforcement Section, said Thursday that Ballard's arrest was the culmination of a year-long investigation into what he says was a large-scale operation to excavate valuable Native American artifacts on private and state property.

"This is a big investigation," Swift said. "We've been watching this guy for more than a year. He's posted videos to youtube and yesterday (Wednesday) we served the search warrant at his home and collected more evidence."

Swift believes that Ballard went on private and state property and collected large volumes of artifacts to sell for thousands of dollars.

According to a warrant application filed with the Magistrate Court of Dougherty County, DNR rangers witnessed Ballard digging on land belonging to Georgia Power Co. and Flint Rock Properties several times between March 22, 2011 and Tuesday.

The form provided Thursday asks that the court issue arrest warrants for Ballard for 11 counts of criminal trespass, 11 counts of digging on a state historical site without permission and 37 counts of failing to notify a state archaeologist.

Swift said that Ballard would likely be charged with more than 70 counts once all of the charges were tallied. More arrests could be pending.

Swift said that illegal commercial artifact collection is a growing problem in Georgia.

"This is a large problem. People need to know that they they can't go collect artifacts on other people's property without permission," Swift said. "We have people who'll say, 'It's just rocks,' but people don't understand that these are part of our history and they're on private property. It's no different than if someone came on to your property and took something of value."