A Conversation With NFT Archaeologists — Wait, What the Heck Is That?

Michael Caloca / ONE37pm

When the iPhone was first released in 2007, there was no such thing as social media, let alone entire social media and mobile-app based companies. Only a few years later, it seemed that every person on the internet under the age of 25 was a social media manager. And now, there’s not a day that goes by where we don’t interact with at least nine mobile-phone-based applications. 

Blockchain technology and the products built on top of it present a similar paradigm shift that will favor new skill-sets we couldn’t have dreamed up 2 years ago if someone asked us what we want to be when we grow up. 

One of those rapidly emerging skill-sets is NFT Archaeology, a title coined by Adam McBride after he described it as “hunting for lost treasures”. I interviewed Adam, and another NFT archaeologist, Gabagool, to learn what NFT archaeology is, what it takes to develop the required skills, and why it’s important to the future of digital collectibles and blockchain-based technology.

What is NFT archaeology?

While we may not see “NFT Archaeologist” job postings on LinkedIn and Indeed just yet, there are a small group of people leveraging their research skills and understanding of the blockchain to uncover historical projects that paved the way for modern NFTs.

“An NFT archaeologist is someone who is interested in understanding the origins of our present phenomenon. Someone who is not content to be presented with people building copy-paste NFTs to make a quick buck. It’s driven by native curiosity from where this originates.”

— Gabagool

In a truly decentralized fashion, NFT archaeologists don’t have certifications for their craft and aren’t paid by big companies to do this work. They emerged through hard work, a collaborative community, and the recognition that this is a paradigm-shifting technology worth exploring further. 

Their collective goal is to unearth and qualify projects that should be a part of the official NFT historical narrative: 

What’s a day in the life like for an NFT Archaeologist?

The history of this paradigm-shifting technology lives on the blockchain, in Reddit threads, in Discord groups, in Medium articles, old YouTube videos, Github repositories, and other crevices of the internet. Archaeologists digitally dig for all of this information, and when first discovered, is called “Alpha” in the NFT world. 

Gabagool explained Alpha as “information asymmetry . . . you understand how something is and how it could be and other people fail to see it, even when you lay it out for them. It’s much more about understanding and being able to sift through this.” 

For those reading this who want to know what NFTs to buy, Alpha is the information gained by doing this work and believing in something before it's validated by others. 

But be warned, it is not trivial work. 

Both archaeologists I interviewed recalled spending 10–12 hours per day on their laptops sifting through information leveraging forums, advanced Google and Twitter searches, Etherscan, Discord groups, and many other resources not known to the average collector. 

Both are so well-versed in the ERC-721 contract standard (the programming code that makes NFTs in their current state possible) that they understand how to mint projects that don’t have working websites (which is not always a good idea, even if you know how): 

Why is this work important?

Throughout history, many now-famous artists and writers (including Vincent Van Gough and Edgar Allen Poe) didn’t get recognition until after their deaths. 

With the power of the internet, NFT Archaeologists like Adam and Gabagool are making sure artists and creators who blazed their trail on the blockchain get an opportunity to be recognized and appreciated for their work. 

Both of them shared that the most rewarding aspect of their “job” is the gratitude and appreciation from those creators who have benefitted from the rediscovery of old projects. 

“It’s a rich history — your definition of an NFT is very different than how people were thinking about it early on — people were trying to put art and games on ethereum.”

— Gabagool

In some cases, rediscovered works have gone on to sell at prominent auction houses like Sotheby’s. 

How can you become an NFT archaeologist?

The blockchain moves fast, and the opportunities are moving even faster. Adam and Gabagool have built this valuable skill set in months, not years. 

Adam was involved in cryptocurrency in 2017, and even built an NFT, but departed after the ICO (initial coin offering) crash. Gabagool started his journey by trading on Robinhood and became interested in decentralized finance, later discovering NFTs. 

Gabagool suggested that anyone who wants to become an NFT Archaeologist “needs to get in Github and Etherscan.” 

There aren’t classes or certification courses to take, it’s about spending time in this space, buying projects you like, joining Discord and Telegram groups, reading threads on Twitter, building relationships, and being self-motivated to learn. 

At some point, it wouldn’t be surprising if NFT Archaeologists and Historians become hirable positions to investors and teams creating new projects. 

There’s also a growing need for community managers and web3 developers to support new projects and innovations: 

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