Researchers develop blockchain verification service for cultural artifacts

Computer scientist Adel Khelifi, of the University of Abu Dhabi, and archaeologist Mark Altaweel, from University College London, recently announced the development of a Web3-based verification-as-a-service model for determining and recording the authenticity and provenance of cultural artifacts. 

Called Salsal, the big idea behind the service is to bridge the world of historical artifacts with an on-chain validation system that can’t be fudged or cloned.

In an email interview with Cointelegraph, Altaweel said Salsal would be offered specifically to “cultural heritage organisations.”

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There currently exists no official globally recognized registry for items of historical significance. Despite this, most territories have laws governing the procurement, collection, trade, buying and selling of artifacts of cultural significance, especially when they’re discovered on public or protected land.

Some of the most historically valuable artifacts known to exist remain unaccounted for. Missing treasures, such as the Honjo Masamune and the Crown Jewels of Ireland, have been lost to time and, in many cases, theft. And countless others have been looted from historically significant sites over the years before experts could even catalog them.

<em>Prior to Salsal, project co-leads Altaweel and Khelifi worked together on research using AI to identify looting at historically significant sites. Source: Altaweel, et al</em>

The team behind Salsal hopes to address some of these concerns by creating what’s essentially a protocol for identifying, grading and recording information about specific artifacts using a suite of technology tools.

When a cultural heritage organization has its collection validated, it uploads images and descriptions to the service. A group of experts then use a process similar to the one used by the Museums Association to grade the artifacts on a five-point scale.

According to the Salsal website:

“Once proven to be legitimate, the Collector can turn it into an NFT which is a Non Fungible Token. We use NFTs as their data is stored on the Blockchain and is immutable, allowing us to document the transfer of ownership accurately.”

Ultimately, the researchers hope to see mass adoption of their service. They envision a paradigm where curators aspire to have their collections validated via Salsal as a matter of verification — something that might be akin to having a rare collectible such as a comic book graded by a commercial validator.

There are already databases containing information on historical artifacts, but a unified database running on an immutable blockchain could help thwart theft and looting by requiring sellers and curators to document provenance.

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