Some of the first on-chain artworks,
Back in 2011, a few pioneers in the blockchain space used an encoding language called Punycode to add various forms of symbols, emojis, ASCII art etc as NFTs onto the Namecoin blockchain. This gave birth to some of the 1st art NFTs in the history of cryptographic collectables: Punycodes. Some examples:
Over 700,000 years ago, Homo Erectus (the earliest known species of the human race) created the earliest known artworks on the walls of their caves called petroglyphs.
The purpose of the cave walls was not to act as a medium of art, but this didn't stop early humans from expressing their creativity on those walls.
In a similar fashion, by enabling ownership of simple data storage on blockchain, Namecoin (which Satoshi Nakamoto himself contributed to) unintentionally gave birth not just to a DNS (Domain Name System), but also to a new medium for art.
A medium that people started using to store artworks within 20 days of its creation!
- 1st altcoin ever (after Bitcoin)
- Designed to work as a DNS to create censorship resistant domains
- Only altcoin to have some early/indirect contributions by Satoshi Nakamoto himself
We're going to let ser Vitalik answer this question :)
1. Some of the first art NFTs
2. Entirely on-chain
3. First mint: 10th May 2011
4. Proof of intent on forum.namecoin.org (since 9th May 2011)
5. Initially created by Khalahan Henkh (Khal), the lead namecoin dev of that time
6. 966 Punycodes (close to 1/3rd of the entire collection) have been created by a Rarepepe artist, Halluciphile.
Total supply (2011-17): 3255
Up until the discovery of Punycodes, Bitlen ASCII was considered to be the 1st "artwork" on the blockchain. The problem is, Bitlen ASCII was untradable.
Not only do Punycodes predate Bitlen ASCII by over 2 months, but they are also tradable!
In 2015, someone decided to use the Punycode encoding language to embed an entire comic book onto the Namecoin blockchain, comprising 10 ASCIIs, portraying the famous table flip meme.
The ASCIIs represent Francis slowly getting angrier and angier; finally flipping the table while playing Magic the Gathering!
Punycode is an encoding language primarily used to encode Unicode characters to represent them in ASCII. The main purpose of the Punycode encoding language has been for internationalized domain names (IDN), however in practice very few top-level domains adopted the usage.
IDN installation in the DNS root zone was done in 2010 but Punycode encoding was not automatically activated in browsers until 2018.
"Punycodes" is a community curated historical collection, and should not be confused with "Punycode" the encoding language that is used in all assets within the Punycodes collection.
“Art is a diverse range of human activity, and resulting product, that involves creative or imaginative talent expressive of technical proficiency, beauty, emotional power, or conceptual ideas” - Wikipedia.
We understand that art definition is subjective. The fact is, there is no proper definition of what constitutes to art, but some things are certain.
• For anything to be called art, it needs to have a creative or a novel process in its creation.
• Something that pushes the boundaries of the human psyche, is art.
Artistic intent behind ~1,000 Punycodes was confirmed by halluciphile, an actual crypto-artist who created these ~1,000 Punycodes, along with dozens of other crypto-art works such as multiple Rare Pepes, Mafia Wars, Bitcorns and more.
Artistic intent behind other Punycodes is not confirmed, but the logic tells us that there is a strong likelihood.
While some Punycodes demonstrate clear aesthetic creativity, others point to a more conceptual art thought process. For example, Namecoin was designed as a DNS; however the intention of storing these ASCIIs, symbols etc was likely for people to do something novel. You see, a domain's main purpose is to be accessible. However characters like Ͼ, Ͽ, ∞ in ϾϿ.bit or ∞.bit are not even accessible in any human keyboards. Further, browsers did not even have default / automatic Punycode encoding resolution until 2018.
Even if some Punycodes may not have had aesthetic or conceptual intent, they still employ technical creativity as they are done by people who managed to store "non-storable" characters on the blockchain without breaking the DNS system.
Thus, all Punycodes can be considered art, because of the clear technical creativity and out-of-the-box studiousness. Of course the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. While many artists, curators and collectors agree with this view, there are also collectors who do not think all Punycodes are artistic. Punycodes DAO welcomes both interpretations, and encourages individuals to view the facts & make a subjective call for themselves.
Punycodes were not "launched" as an official project in 2011. Punycodes were decentralized efforts of independent people who minted NFTs on the same chain, in the same blockchain era (pre-ERC721), using the same technical method (Punycode encoding language), with likely the same or similar intent.
These common features are why the Punycodes community voted and retroactively grouped these old assets as a collection in 2022.
Note that the community curated the collection to have a cutoff finishing in the end of 2017, because ERC721 was introduced in early 2018. This is a decentralized community, thereffore there is no "official" project cutoff, however the assets within the Punycodes collection tend to have a value for collectors due to their historical scarcity and attachment to a large community .
Any asset on the Namecoin blockchain that follows the xn-- structure & was minted between 2011-17
NFTs on bitcoin were not possible until 2014 (the op_return function was introduced in 2014). Namecoin is the first altcoin that launched in April 2011.
The first asset on the Namecoin chain was on the 21st of April, 2011 (about 20 days before the first Punycode).
Given that now all 2011 Namecoin assets have already been scraped, it is extremely unlikely to find art NFTs before Punycodes (but we are open to art interpretations for other NFTs!).
Punycodes were decentralized efforts of independent people who minted NFTs on the same chain. Most of the Punycodes creators are not known.
However one of them (possibly the one with the most mints) is halluciphile, who minted ~1000 Punycodes in 2014 and 2015. halluciphile is a crypto-artist who also produced multiple Rare Pepes, Bitcorns, Mafia Wars, and more.
Upon discovery, Punycodes DAO immediately made halluciphile a DAO member and gifted several Punycodes from treasury. Further, it promised to allocate royalties when the individual vault contract launches on Ethereum (dependent on a 3rd party service called Emblem Vault).
There are 5 Misprints within the entire list of Punycodes where "xn--" is used but the decoding results in.. nothing.. (we think this is intentional since xn-- usage is very specific)
If you follow the rabbit hole, you will find a lot of stories within Punycodes collection. There are mixes of symbols and emojis, mixes of symbols and letters, a comic collection, references to movies and poems, and even multiple emojis in a single Punycode, whose stories we cannot decypher (let us know your interpretations):
Due to the nature of the protocol design, Namecoin NFTs need renewing every 36,000 blocks (~9 months). This limitation is mostly overcome by cheap auto-renewal services. It's still worth pointing out: While some Namecoin names have never expired since their birth, others did and got renewed afterwards.
There is an ongoing debate about whether the renewed names are the old tokens (2011-2017) or they are new tokens (2022) that provide ownership to the old blockchain collectibles (2011-2017).
There are convincing arguments from all sides, but make no mistake: All Namecoin assets have a birthdate with their first registration, and the distinction here is mostly semantic. This article (which was reviewed by 4 devs, 3 artists and 10+ historical NFT collectors) from Chainleft goes into this semantic debate in detail.
Namecoin is a DNS, and thus all assets created on the chain are domains.