Salsal: Harnessing Blockchain for the Evolution of Museums and Preservation of Cultural Heritage

by | Aug 7, 2023

A team of researchers and archaeologists, led by Professor Mark Altaweel from the archaeology department at the University College of London, has spent the past two years creating a new tool called Salsal. This tool, which uses the Ethereum blockchain, aims to change the way museums and cultural institutions handle and protect valuable historical collections.

The main goal of Salsal is to create a system that promotes transparency and holds museums accountable for their ethical practices. One of its notable features is the introduction of a rating scale for collections, ranging from one (acquired legally and ethically) to five (acquired illegally). What sets Salsal apart is its decision to showcase all collections, even those with a ‘five’ rating, on the blockchain. This not only brings transparency to the forefront but also acts as a deterrent against unethical practices.

By using the blockchain, Salsal aims to take the first important step towards “decolonizing museums” and reclaiming our past. The Salsal network will serve as an unchangeable record of items in museums worldwide, making it easier to identify and report stolen artifacts. This technology opens up access to these records for anyone with an internet connection, enabling the public to actively participate in the preservation and restoration of our cultural heritage.

One notable feature of Salsal is its integration of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). Collections with proper documentation can be transformed into NFTs on the Salsal network, allowing individuals to own a piece of history while supporting the institutions that protect it. The NFT section of Salsal will be public, allowing people not only to view but also to purchase these exceptional collections. This provides museums with new opportunities to generate revenue and invest in the preservation and acquisition of artifacts.

Salsal’s implementation of a partially-private version of Ethereum ensures that ownership and authenticity cannot be destroyed or lost. This on-chain storage system adds an extra layer of security, protecting against theft and unauthorized changes to historical records.

The need for Salsal is evident as esteemed institutions such as the British Museum in London face allegations of retaining stolen items, including the Benin Bronzes, Parthenon Marbles, and the legendary Rosetta Stone. Salsal provides a platform for museums to address these ethical controversies directly, correct past injustices, and regain the public’s trust.

Altaweel sees Salsal as a tool that not only protects cultural heritage but also prevents future acts of cultural vandalism. By having a comprehensive record of items on the blockchain, it becomes increasingly difficult for stolen artifacts to be sold or displayed without raising suspicion. This proactive approach serves as a powerful deterrent.

The potential impact of Salsal is huge. It offers a decentralized solution for managing and preserving our cultural heritage while empowering individuals to actively participate in safeguarding our collective history. Museums in Abu Dhabi, including the prestigious Louvre, are being encouraged to embrace this revolutionary tool and contribute to a more transparent and accountable future.

While progress has been made in recovering stolen artifacts, there are still more than 8,000 items unaccounted for. Salsal aims to bridge this gap by providing a comprehensive system that protects and preserves our heritage for future generations.

In conclusion, the development of Salsal signifies a significant advancement in the fight against cultural theft and unethical practices within the museum industry. Through the use of blockchain technology and NFTs, Altaweel and his team are paving the way for a future that prioritizes transparency, accountability, and inclusivity for museums and cultural institutions worldwide. With Salsal leading the way, we not only protect our past but also ensure that our cultural heritage remains accessible and valued by all.