NFT Archaeology Calendar I: Front-Running History

NFT Archaeology Calendar I: Front-Running History

MoonCatRescue Rediscovery saw 3,268 “Successful Rescuers” and 1,657 “Failed Rescuers” on March 12th, 2021 and is widely known as the birth of NFT Archaeology

Disclaimer: All information used within this dialogue has been referenced from public sources. Please note that dates, timelines, and graphics may be subject to inaccuracies. It’s possible that rediscoveries, relaunches, and revivals may have occurred prior to their public announcement. For the purpose of this series, we will be following the publicly available timeline for the sake of narrative and storytelling.

Created by: Jake Gallen
Published: August 17th, 2022
Last Edit: December 30th, 2022


Historical NFT and Vintage NFT are both good terms to describe NFTs that are “of age” or from an earlier time period in the evolution of the NFT ecosystem. Early NFT could also work, as it suggests being ahead of the curve and among the first to adopt this technology. Old NFT could work as well, but it might carry connotations of being outdated or less valuable, which may not be the intended meaning.

It’s interesting to think about the concept of NFT Archaeology and how it relates to traditional archaeology. Both involve the study and examination of artifacts from the past, but in the case of NFT Archaeology, the artifacts are digital rather than physical. It’s a relatively new field, given that the emerging NFT ecosystem has only been around for a few years, but it’s an important one as it helps to preserve and contextualize the history of NFTs and the broader digital world.

Internet Archaeology is the study of the history and evolution of the internet and its various platforms and technologies. It involves examining and documenting the various artifacts and developments that have shaped the internet as we know it today. This could include early chat forums, social media platforms, websites, and other digital artifacts.

NFT Archaeology takes this concept a step further by focusing specifically on the history and evolution of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) within the broader context of blockchain technology. This involves examining the early experiments and developments in NFTs, as well as the various platforms and communities that have emerged around them.

The term “NFT Historian” refers to someone who is interested in and knowledgeable about the history and evolution of NFTs. They might conduct research, write about the topic, or curate collections of historical NFTs. Essentially, an NFT Historian is someone who is passionate about preserving and contextualizing the history of NFTs and their role in the broader digital world.

Digital Antiquities refers to digital assets that are considered to be of historical or cultural significance. These might include early NFTs, as well as other digital artifacts such as websites, social media posts, or online communities. Digital Antiquities can provide insight into the history and evolution of the digital world, as well as the cultural and social norms of the time period in which they were created.

It’s important to understand the history and context of Digital Antiquities in order to fully appreciate their significance and value. This includes not just the provenance of the asset itself, but also the culture and context in which it was created. By examining Digital Antiquities, we can better understand the past and how it has shaped the present and future of the digital world.

On March 12th, 2021, the crypto world learned about MoonCatRescue, which was widely considered the “2nd oldest NFT on ETH”. While we now know that MoonCatRescue is closer to the bottom of the first 10 collections on Ethereum, at the time, this was considered a major breakthrough. Larva Labs had claimed that their CryptoPunks NFT collection was the “1st NFT” for years, so it’s understandable why the NFT community considered MoonCatRescue the 2nd oldest on Ethereum.

It was a wild day. The top narrative on Crypto Twitter was something like “Digital Cats discovered, 20k free mints remain, older than CryptoKitties, younger than CryptoPunks”. It was all anyone was talking about. When the last cat was rescued from the moon, over 5,000 people had tried to join the mission.
-MoonCats are currently available on Opensea for 0.4 ETH

One aspect of the recent MoonCatRescue rediscovery that was overlooked was that they weren’t even the first cat NFTs to be rediscovered that day. In fact, just a day earlier, a group of NFT enthusiasts had rediscovered CryptoCats, an NFT project from 2017 that predated CryptoKitties by just 11 days. But it turns out that even those CryptoCats weren’t even the first of their own kind — just a few days later, the same group discovered that there were even earlier version of CryptoCats that had been deployed. This situation, where multiple contracts or versions of the same NFT Collection existing, is something to keep in mind as we move forward.
CryptoCats are currently available on Opensea for 2 ETH

Within 24 hours of the MoonCatRescue rediscovery, another group of NFT enthusiasts discovered Curio Cards, the first known Art NFT collection on Ethereum, which predates CryptoPunks by one month. This discovery provided proof that there were Ethereum projects that predated the widely-recognized “first” NFT, CryptoPunks, which was created by Larva Labs. It was later revealed that Larva Labs was aware of the existence of Curio Cards and Rare Pepes, but had still claimed that their Punks NFT collection was the first.
-Curio Cards are currently available on Opensea for .3 ETH

Just hours after the Curio Cards rediscovery, Cyrus Atkinson tweeted from the Etheria Twitter account about the relaunch of the 2015 NFT project, which was first deployed on Ethereum only months after the protocol had minted its first blocks, and nearly two years before Curio Cards and CryptoPunks. Etheria is consider the first hard capped NFT project on Ethereum, which even predates the ERC20 standard. The instructions for minting out the remaining Etheria tiles were posted by Allen Henna the next day, and it turned out that there were two versions of Etheria — V1.1 and V1.2. This multiple contract situation, where different versions of the “same assets” exist, is something that we’ve seen before and will continue to see throughout the history of NFTs.
-Etheria is currently available for 10 ETH

To wrap up this incredible week, the OG collection Dada Creeps & Weirdos was rediscovered on March 14th, 2021. In just 72 hours, five legendary Ethereum collections (eight if we include all the different contracts) and over 50,000 NFTs were rediscovered, giving birth to a new industry. It was a historic moment for the NFT community and marked the beginning of a new era for what would become Historical NFTs.
-Creeps & Weirdos are currently available for .2 ETH

Could this be the beginning of NFT Archaeology?

There were a lot of claims made about provenance and credibility during the month of March, as people were trying to understand the history of NFTs and determine which projects were the first, oldest, and most important. Larva Labs’ claim to be the first to create non-fungible tokens was finally disproven twice within 48 hours, leading many to wonder what else might be out there. It’s important to remember that Ethereum was only deployed in 2015 and that Bitcoin dates back to 2009, leaving six years of history before these platforms even existed. It’s possible that there were other early NFT experiments or projects that have yet to be rediscovered or brought to the attention of the broader community.

During this period of intense interest in the history of NFTs, some of the early adopters and pioneers in the space shared their thoughts on the matter. The Bitcoin “NFT” platform Counterparty noted a renewed interest in the platform, while Trash Art pioneer ROBNESS shared the story of Rare Pepe, Spells of Genesis, and Sarutobi. Kevin McCoy also shared insight on 2014 Namecoin and Counterparty NFTs.

While these non-Ethereum projects were public and shared by the pioneers who helped pave the way for NFTs, they were not widely known or discussed within the broader NFT community due to the technical challenges of navigating cross-chain infrastructure. It was as if the Namecoin, Bitcoin, Dogecoin, and Ethereum NFT communities were each having their own vintage renaissance within their own respective echo chambers.

The following four months were relatively quiet in the emerging field of NFT Archaeology. During this time, some key infrastructure was developed, and people who were interested in the history of NFTs began to emerge as NFT Historians, while collectors focused on Historical NFTs. Thought leaders also debated the meaning of terms such as “on-chain” and “Generative”, foreshadowing the debates and discussions that would come in the future.

Some notable events during this time included:

  • Adam McBride hosting the first NFT Archaeology podcast featuring Curio Card artist Daniel Friedman.
  • The legendary Counterparty NFT auction house Roaring Auctions moved to video format for its first auction after a period of downtime.
  • Larva Labs auctioning off nine of their own Crypto Punks at Christies for $16.9 million.
  • Kevin McCoy auctioning off the “First NFT” Quantum at Sothebys for $1.4 million.
  • HarryBTC publishing the first known “Early NFT Timeline”.
  • Various NFT projects and Tokens such as OLGA, EtherWaifu, IKB Digital Zones, Crypto Strikers, and Lost Robbies receiving brief moments of attention.
HarryBTC’s “Early NFT Timeline”

Looking back, it’s clear that this period of relative calm was just a brief respite before the intense activity that would follow. Once August arrived, the pace picked up significantly and it felt like a sprint towards 2022. It’s interesting to reflect on how the NFT space has evolved and how the interest and excitement around historical NFTs has grown over time.

August was a defining month for Historical NFTs to say the least

August was a significant month for the Historical NFT community, with nearly twenty early NFT projects being rediscovered, revived, and relaunched within its thirty-one days. This period was not without controversy, confusion, and possibly even corruption, depending on who you ask. Leading NFT Archaeologists were often approached by founders, excavators, investors, collectors, and developers about how they could help bring new life to vintage projects. However, not all of these projects were successful in finding a permanent community, and the process of rediscovering and reviving Historical NFTs was a battlefield for the brave, bold, and possibly now broke individuals involved.

Before we dive in let’s get a bit more Historical NFT jargon out of the way.

Discovery - An individual, or group of individuals, who uncover a previously unidentified form of hidden utility, meaning, or artistic expression.

Rediscovery - An individual, or group of individuals, who uncover a single token or complete project that displays unique properties of artistic intent and has been “abandoned” or seen minimal activity to no activity for a substantial period of time.

Upon rediscovery the tokens that were minted, mined, created, or registered during the rediscovery were without the original founder’s participation and/or knowledge.

Relaunch - An individual, or group of individuals, who uncover a single token or complete project that displays unique properties of artistic intent and has been “abandoned” or seen minimal activity to no activity for a substantial period of time.

Upon rediscovery the tokens that were minted, mined, created, or registered during the rediscovery were with the original founder’s participation and/or knowledge.

ERC20 - The Ethereum technical standard for which fungible tokens are created.

ERC721 - The Ethereum technical standard for which non-fungible tokens are created.

Pre ERC721 - A Historical NFT term referring to “Non-Fungible Tokens” that were created prior to the first contract implementation of the ERC721 standard in March of 2018.

NFT Wrapper - An ERC721 contract that wraps ERC20 tokens individually. Is commonly used for Pre ERC721 NFTs to allow for trading on NFT Marketplaces and the continuation of project development.

This is a real photo

Okay you ready? Here we gooooo….

The first week of August saw several early NFT projects get their moment in the spotlight on Twitter, including Cryptoarte, Ether Rock, Deus ETH, CryptoCystal, and Su Squares, the first fully compliant ERC721 contract. Ether Rock, part of a group now known as the “Rock Mafia”, was advertised as early as December 26th, 2017 as a set of “100 Pet Rocks”. These NFTs started with a near free mint and sat on a bonding curve that ended at the 100th mint for 10 ETH. However, buying in to this elite cohort came with risks, as Ether Rocks are ERC20 tokens and have not yet found a way to sell on OpenSea. Their built-in marketplace has helped facilitate most of the sales to date, but it’s unclear how the team plans to grow the ongoing legacy of digital pet rocks when there’s only one way in and one way out.

As if that weren’t enough, it turns out that Ether Rocks aren’t even the original rocks! A contract called “WELIKETHEROCKS” was deployed just a day earlier, and is now known as Genesis Rocks. This makes Ether Rocks the third publicly known historical NFT project to have multiple versions (following Etheria and Crypto Cats). Are you keeping up with all of this?
-Ether Rocks are currently available for 200 ETH

During the first week of August frenzy HarryBTC released “Early NFTs V2”

The next week of August might as well be known as the Week of Pre-ERC721’s because all 4 projects rediscovered were uncovered outside of OpenSea or any current NFT Marketplace. One of them was even minted straight from the contract, no marketplace needed.

On August 8th, the Lunar Moon Plots were rediscovered. These 400 real estate plots on the moon had a contract that predated the recently rediscovered Ether Rocks by 66 days, and included a working interactive marketplace. There was a lot to like about this NFT project.
-Lunar Moon Plots are currently available for 2.5 ETH

“Just a few days later, NFT trader Pranksy sent a tweet about an old NFT project called Ether Tulips. It’s possible that the recent rediscoveries had caught his attention. Like many other early projects, Ether Tulips had a contract bug that caused Generations 1 and 2 of the collection to not render on OpenSea. A new wrapper was deployed, and the earliest versions of the Ether Tulip collection are now known as Ether Tulips Legacy.
-Legacy Ether Tulips are currently available for .1 ETH

Welcome to the citadel, my liege. Realms of Ether was deployed on December 30th, 2017 and minted out via Github. Initially promoted as having a supply of 1000, the collection was actually contractually limited to 500. It had no image, no wrapper, and no home. However, what was left behind were little breadcrumbs of story, lore, and intention. The community made some hard decisions based on the perceived roadmap of the original creator, and the rest is history.
-Realms of Ether are currently available for 3 ETH

Satoshi, Vitalk, and Charlie Lee… Oh my! EtherLambos is a collection of 1800 NFTs and 8 models, all modeled after iconic crypto leaders, blockchains, or businesses (Coinshares and Dogecar not shown). The first 100 of each vehicle were minted in 2018, and the remaining supply was minted out during the rediscovery of the project. Considered a very early customizable project, these Lambos are ready for the moon!
-Ether Lambos are currently available for .6 ETH

Leonidas’ first NFT Timeline, which at the time was the most complete graphic of Historical NFTs on ETH

The reemergence of early non-fungible tokens was not the only thing happening in the HNFT space. Leaders were also coming to the forefront, like Leonidas, who was initially just a prospective collector with an interest in history. His “History of NFTs on ETH V1” timeline played a major role in establishing him as a leader in the historical NFT space. Today, he has the largest Twitter following of Historical NFT leaders at 42k followers, about 15k more than the next leading NFT historian, Adam McBride.

Crypto Jingles is a 2018 Pre-ERC721 generative audio-visual token, considered the first of its kind. It was a groundbreaking experiment that could be a forefather to the generative music NFT movement. The project is split into two collections: “2018” and “New Crypto Jingles”. One NFT even captures the voice of the infamous BitConnect’s Satish Kumbhani.
-Genesis Crypto Jingles are currently available for 15 ETH

The “Advertisement Board for Crypto Twitter” WeiCards caught attention on the same day as the rediscovery of Crypto Jingles. This project, born on December 23rd, 2017, predates the generative music project by about two months. WeiCards is a supply of 100 unique cards that allow users to upload their own image and website to the board. Once this Pre-ERC721 project was wrapped, the market valued each token between 3–8 ETH.
-WeiCards are currently available for 3.5 ETH

As we move into an increasingly memetic digital landscape filled with Dickbutts, TitVags, and SimpDAOs, we must pay respects to those who paved the way: CRYPTO TITTIES. This Pre-ERC721 charity project launched on January 8th, 2018 and was rediscovered on August 17th, 2021. It features 144 NFTs listed on a bonding curve, with a portion of the funds being donated to “The Breasties” for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
-CryptoTitties are currently available for 3 ETH

On August 17th, 2021, Pixereum was introduced to the public square of Twitter, setting the stage for a slew of pixelated boards to be rediscovered. This Pre-ERC721 project, launched on March 2nd, 2018, consists of 10,000 pixels that can be bought and have their color changed. It’s a pretty straightforward concept.
-Pixereum Pixels are currently available for .05 ETH

As new information is introduced a new version is required

On August 23rd, 2021, WRabbit1111 introduced “The Origin of Digital Antiquities Market,” a detailed Medium post that covers the history, story, timestamp, personalities, and lore of the Vintage NFT industry. This post has been updated 8 times since and is considered one of the most comprehensive write-ups on the subject. WRabbit1111 is a vocal leader and favorite among Historical NFT enthusiasts.

It’s been a wild ride, and it’s clear that the interest and excitement around Historical NFTs has only grown over time. As we move forward, it will be interesting to see how the market evolves and what new stories and discoveries will come to light. Overall, it’s been an exciting time to be a part of the NFT space and to witness the growth and evolution of the industry.

UPDATE: Part 2 & 3 of the NFT Archaeology Calendar series are now live.

-NFT Archaeology Calendar II: Uncovering Ground Zero
-NFT Archaeology Calendar III: Civil War

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