Indiana Jones – professor of antiquities, expert on the occult and obtainer of rare artifacts – would have been proud. Blockchain, the technology that is revolutionizing multiple industries, is set to change archaeology.
In a first, an Italy-based startup called Kapu is holding an initial coin offering (ICO) for its blockchain-based technology that aims “to revolutionize how archaeological and heritage data are stored, preserved and made accessible,” according to an article in The Guardian. As part of the ICO, Kapu has issued the world’s first “archaeological coin.” Regarding the startup’s technology, Kapu CEO Martin Merola said that the company intends to use blockchain for information sharing and data sharing. (See also: Blockchain Is Helping Change Government Services.)
According to Merola, blockchain offers a cheap and simple solution for encrypted data storage with different permission levels. This can be especially useful for countries that have limited funding opportunities for archaeological expeditions or maintaining data repositories related to their findings. Even within the United States, the Trump administration has threatened to defund the National Endowment of Humanities (NEH), which according to some sources has funded “spectacular research.” This could dim the prospects for archaeological projects in the country. (See also: How Blockchain Technology Is Changing Real Estate.)
The Guardian article outlines several ways in which blockchain’s distributed ledger can be useful to archaeology. At a granular level, it can used to configure museum directories as well as information about individual museum artifacts. At the industry level, it can be used to create a database of archaeological artifacts with invisible tags. Such a database would be architected differently compared with typical systems, which comprise multiple individual systems. In a blockchain architecture, museums will store their catalog with different levels of permissions for staff, the public and experts. It would also become easier for museums to inform law enforcement agencies about a theft by immediately releasing hash codes, which are used to identify each block of information within a blockchain. These codes will also make it easier to track the route of such objects in smuggling.
Another application for blockchain in archaeology is smart contracts. The self-executing contracts could be configured to destroy data related to ethnographic study subjects after a given duration, per regulations. (See also: Understanding Smart Contracts.)