Thursday, February 01, 2018

Recording provenance in the blockchain

An October 2017 article by Peter B Campbell in The Guardian, “Archaeology and blockchain: a social science data revolution?” discusses using blockchain, the computer technology that ensures Bitcoins are not counterfeited, to record provenance data for antiquities.

Campbell is an archeologist and his article mentions Islamic State and blood antiquities. Those claims might be overblown but the technical scheme described by the article seems workable for medium and high values items. The startup Kapu already conducted a test of using a digital 'coin' to create a provenance ledger.

Were an artifact to have a blockchain record, each time it crossed a border or was sold to a new collector the record could be updated to show it was legitimate. Conversely “blood antiquities” would have no record and faked records could not be manufactured as they often are today. Border security could then compare records of artifacts declared at customs to databases such as INTERPOL.
Some of the ideas, like swabbing antiquities with synthetic DNA, seem fanciful. The basic claim seems solid. Using blockchain technology for art isn't science fiction. An article by Jason Bailey on Artnome explains that the technology is already in use for proving ownership of digital artworks. Verisart and Codex are startups in this space. They hope to convince auction houses to use their technology to record sales.
Codex Protocol is designed as industry infrastructure for art and collectibles. So it's fine wine, classic cars, jewelry, fine art, anything else that sort of fits into that category of items.
For ancient coin collectors one problem is that we would like to be able to prove ownership before 1970, or before the 2007 agreement between the United States and Cyprus. These technologies are for recording transactions now, not 50 years in the past. I would be interested to learn what the legal community thinks of these things.

The SciTech Lawyer, a publication of the American Bar Association, just published an article on that very topic. Unfortunately for me, law professor Derek Fincham's article “Can Blockchain Technology Disrupt the Trade in Illicit Antiquities?” is not available to non-subscribers.

In the comments section, discuss if you would be interested in using blockchain to record your ownership of coins, and if you would pay a premium to know the previous owners of a coin back to 2019.