The Transition of Provenance

The Transition of Provenance

Disclaimer: All Information used within this dialogue has been referenced from public information. Dates, timelines, and graphics may be subject to imprecise information. Rediscoveries, Relaunches, and Revivals are likely to have found activity hours, days, or weeks prior to their shared publicity. For the purpose of narrative and story the entirety of this series will follow the public timeline.

Collect this article (NFT) on Optimism!

Created by: Jake Gallen
Published: February 11th, 2023
Last Edit: February 11th, 2023

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History vs. Historical

Welcome back everyone! Today, we’re going to explore the idea of provenance and how it relates to valuing historical non-fungible tokens (HNFTs), vintage NFTs, early NFTs, blockchain collectibles, or whatever term you prefer for dated tokens on a blockchain. Mafico released a well-put-together thought piece about seven different metrics collectors rely on when purchasing HNFTs. “History” is determined by the timestamp (provenance) regardless of the industry or market you are participating in. Meanwhile, the concept of “historical” tends to be more convoluted and debated vigorously across all disciplines.

Practically, those who allocate capital towards profiting off of history may have been collectors who scour downtown antique stores in hopes of finding a mispriced piece of history thats hop owners may not completely understand what is in their possession. Or they may be a government body or educational institution that is footing the bill for some good old-fashioned research and development (R&D). (Token Provenance)

Traditionally, those who allocate time towards studying history are generally students of the subject. This may include a professor who is refreshing their knowledge on the history of Azteca in preparation for an upcoming semester teaching HST 432. Or it may be a traditional archaeologist who is paid a salary to explore a new excavation in South America. If something is found, those artifacts are typically owned by the organization that pays the archaeologist’s salary, rather than the individual who discovered them. (Contract Provenance)

History is rich in value and there will never be an exact value rubric for those who pursue it to follow. The reason why somebody may pursue history is just as important as the person who pursues it, which is dependent on the organization that person belongs to.

To summarize:

  • Why is this person pursing history?
  • Who is the person pursuing history?
  • What organization does this person belong to?
  • Are we pursuing an individual item or collective understanding?

What is history important to you?

“Seven Criteria of Value”

History is imperfect, just as life is. In the span of a decade, you can simultaneously experience the high and low points of your life multiple times. You can get married, have kids, get divorced, lose a family member, lose your job, meet a stranger who believes in you, get a new job, find success, open your own business, pursue your life ambitions, and lose it all, only to repeat the cycle. This is what they call the cycle of life, and humanity is constantly going through this flow state on an individual, collective, and international level. Although life continuously ebbs and flows through space and time, there is one thing that humanity is constantly achieving: progress.

The progression of humanity is likely to never be completely understood, just as the pursuit of understanding is likely to never be abandoned. Some people may find sentimental value in history and pursue it for its intrinsic properties, while others may find monetary value in history and pursue it for its extrinsic properties. Progress is easy to identify but difficult to understand due to the absence of relative information. In these cases, humans tend to apply their own logic, meaning, philosophy, and tools to history in an attempt to fill in the void of the unknown.

Provenance, or the history or origin of something, especially in terms of ownership or location of creation or production, is crucial for historians, archaeologists, collectors, and others interested in understanding the past. It serves as an anchor for those seeking knowledge and understanding. Over the course of human civilization, several methods have been developed to help determine provenance, including documentary evidence, physical examination, scientific analysis, historical research, expert opinions, and authentication.

  • Documentary evidence: This can include documents, records, and other written materials that provide information about the history of an object or its ownership.
  • Physical examination: Experts can examine the physical characteristics of an object, such as its materials, construction, and style, to determine its likely place of origin and date of creation.
  • Scientific analysis: Scientists can use various techniques, such as carbon dating or chemical analysis, to determine the age and origin of an object.
  • Historical research: Researchers can use primary and secondary sources, such as diaries, letters, newspapers, and other documents, to learn more about the history of an object and its provenance.
  • Expert opinions: Art historians, curators, and other experts can provide valuable insights into the provenance of an object based on their knowledge and experience.
  • Authentication: Objects may be authenticated by experts who can confirm their authenticity based on a variety of factors, such as their style, materials, and other characteristics.

But what if all of these methods for determining provenance could be replaced with a single technology? This is where blockchain technology comes in.

Carbon Dating the Internet

Physical provenance dates human existence back to as far as 3.3 million years ago at the archaeological site of Lomekwi in Kenya, where excavators have found stone tools that carbon-date to the earliest known objects in existence.

Digital provenance dates back to 1996, when the Wayback Machine began archiving internet history. But what happened to all digital footprints prior to 1996? The data may exist on a central server that has been archived for personal inventory, or it may be saved on a floppy disk (if we’re lucky). To prove digital provenance, humanity has used a variety of tools, including digital signatures, timestamps, digital watermarks, and hash functions.

  • Digital signatures: A digital signature is a type of electronic signature that uses a combination of encryption and hashing to authenticate the identity of the signer and the integrity of the document or data being signed.
  • Timestamps: Digital timestamps provide a record of when a particular document or piece of data was created or modified, helping to establish its provenance.
  • Digital watermarks: A digital watermark is a type of digital signature that is embedded in a document or image, making it difficult to alter or remove without detection.
  • Hash functions: A hash function is a mathematical algorithm that converts a digital file into a unique string of characters, called a hash. The hash can be used to verify the authenticity and integrity of the original file.

The specific day that the internet began is debated, with experts generally agreeing that it was sometime in late 1990. Therefore, there is about a six-year gap between the birth of the commercial internet and documented digital history, which may exist on a central server or someone’s hard drive. In a similar but different fashion, there is about a 3.3 million year gap between the earliest known artifact and the oldest known document in human history, which is the Code of Ur-Nammu, created in 2050 BC by King Hammurabi (though this is also up for debate).

*The Blockchain has entered chat

Throughout the progression of humanity, every technological upgrade has significantly reduced the gap in our understanding of provenance. The tools for determining provenance have improved, while the act of documentation has started much earlier. Humanity has gone from documenting physical history to documenting digital history, and now we are beginning to document tokenized history.

NFT 24-Hour Clock

If you think the idea of Internet Archaeology is ludicrous then you’re going to squawk at the idea of Blockchain Archaeology, or NFT Archaeology. Tokenized history is the third turning of human documentation and its the first time ever where the provenance is openly accessible for every single item created within its own ecosystem. That’s right, every single digital object created on a blockchain is prepackaged with its own timestamp. Thus eliminating the needs to use any sort of provincial tools required to know the age of a digital object. Game, set, match.

If you think the concept of Internet Archaeology is absurd, you may also be skeptical of the idea of Blockchain Archaeology or NFT Archaeology. Tokenized history represents the third stage of human documentation and is the first time that the provenance of every single item created within its ecosystem is openly accessible. That’s right: every digital object created on a blockchain comes with its own timestamp, eliminating the need for tools to determine the age of a digital object. Game, set, match.

  • Blockchain technology: Blockchain is a distributed ledger technology that allows for the creation of a secure and transparent record of transactions. This can be used to establish the provenance of digital assets, such as documents or art.

Fungible & Non-Fungible History

Archaeology primarily involves documenting and discovering non-fungible items, although it is also important to understand the early practices of fungible value.

In the early days of value creation, commodities came in different shapes and sizes. Fungibility did not become popularized until about 3,000 years ago with the advent of marked coinage. However, this is even debated because coins had slightly different weights but were stamped with an official number that omitted variations and created standardization.

In 1989, David Chaum released DigiCash, the first known attempt at a purely online digital currency. This coincides with around the same time as the birth of the commercial internet. Chaum’s research paperBlind Signatures for Untraceable Payments” was published in 1983, so he likely worked on this idea for nearly a decade before the internet was released to the public. Between DigiCash and the inception of Bitcoin, dozens of other attempts at digital and tokenized currencies emerged, including HashCash, Bit Gold, Liberty Reserve, B-Money, and ecash.

The first Bitcoin (BTC) block was mined on January 3rd, 2009. This is verifiable due to the blockchain’s open-source and distributed ledger. There is no question about what the first blockchain or fungible currency was. The first non-fungible asset was created on April 21st, 2011 on the Namecoin (NMC) blockchain, only four days after the first NMC block was minted. This is also verifiable due to the blockchain’s open-source and distributed ledger. There is no debate as to what the first non-fungible asset on a blockchain is but there is debate as to what may be the first non-fungible token.

Although this information may seem irrelevant, it is important to understand trends and how they differ between time periods. Early humanity first used the foundation of non-fungible items as a means of transaction, and as technology has progressed, blockchain technology has allowed us to access fungibility before non-fungibility. Some might say that the paradigm has shifted.

Time Difference between the first Non-Fungible and Fungible Items:

  • Physical: 3.3 Million Years
  • Digital: Roughly Same Time Period
  • Blockchain: 2 Years After

Defining Blockchain Provenance

On the 14th birthday of Bitcoin, we find ourselves reflecting on the unique history of blockchain technology. One of the characteristics that sets blockchain apart from other forms of data storage is its programmability, which allows for the creation of unique datapoints of provenance. As blockchain technology continues to develop, so too does the social consensus surrounding it. The programmability of blockchain allows for the creation of unique datapoints of provenance, and as the technology evolves, so does the social consensus surrounding it.

  • Smart contract provenance refers to the history and origin of a smart contract. It includes information about the creator of the contract, when and where it was created, and any changes that have been made to it.
  • Token provenance refers to the history of a specific token, such as a cryptocurrency or a non-fungible token (NFT). This includes information about the token’s origin, who owns it, and any transactions that have been made with it.

The concept of tokens and their relationship to historical value is a complex and heavily debated topic in the world of blockchain, and the difference between contract provenance and token provenance is a key area of contention. In this article, we will examine how allocated value differs between these two forms of provenance.

Here are some questions to think about before we return:

  • If a token is created years later from an older contract is that token valuable? (Ex: A 2022 token minted on a 2015 contract)
  • Is it the same token if it has expired but the history of registrations is maintained on the same asset directory?
  • Is it the same token if the creator “migrates” it to a different chain but is on a different contract?
  • Does a “remint” maintain the same value upon recreation?
  • Which is more important for maintaining value: the contract’s timestamp or the creator’s blessings?

Think about this for the next time we explore :

As we begin to understand how provenance is understood in a tokenized world where will value determine is the safest harbor to store their capital?

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