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Guide to Bitcoin Ordinals Collections: What Are Runestones?

Guide to Bitcoin Ordinals Collections: What Are Runestones?

Guide to Bitcoin Ordinals Collections: What Are Runestones?

Mar 26, 2024

General Wallet Use

5 min

The largest Ordinals airdrop ever. That is not hyperbole – at the time, it was an accurate description of the Runestone Project led by the pseudonymous Leonidas. Runestones began dropping on March 14, distributing more than 112,000 inscriptions in the first few days of the collection’s launch. Seemingly overnight, it became the largest project in the history of the Ordinals ecosystem.

Of course, the Ordinals community moves quickly and Runestones have since been surpassed by Gamestones as the biggest Ordinals airdrop of all time (a number of Gamestones were, however, airdropped to some Runestones owners). But Runestones are still a major subject of conversation and not just because of their significant secondary market on platforms like Magic Eden. At its core, Runestones is a decentralized, open-source, volunteer effort that’s designed to honor Ordinals’ earliest adopters. 

At the time of its debut, Runestones was among the most anticipated Ordinals collections. To understand why, it’s key to understand the collection’s ethos.

What are Runestones?

There are two key pieces to the Runestones project: the Runestones Runes Ordinal and the Runestones Token. 

Runestone Ordinals

Runestones aren’t just any piece of art in the blockchain ecosystem. The Runestone was designed by sculptor Léo Caillard, who is known primarily for his work with marble. Caillard reportedly donated the image to the Runestone project under a Creative Commons license.

Caillard called working with Bitcoin “not so different from the enduring nature of marble,” and says his design “is a statement about the permanence of art, whether carved from the earth or coded into the ether.” 

As the stated goal was to reward those who adopted Ordinals early-on, eligibility was key to implementation. It was decided that a Runestone Ordinal would be dropped to any Bitcoin address that held three (or more) non-text or JSON script Ordinals before block 826,600.

The Runestones team used parent-child relationships to build non-utility inscriptions that also guarantee on-chain provenance. The way this works, according to Leonidas, is that “if you own an inscription you have the ability to create ‘children’ inscriptions under it, thus making it the ‘parent’ of those inscriptions.” 

Each of the collection’s inscriptions (over 112,000 total) originated from a “child” inscription derived from a “grandparent” that is, to date, the largest inscribed file on Bitcoin. This grandparent inscription was sold for 8 BTC in a Dutch auction to cover the fees needed to complete the airdrop. The "child" inscription (designed by FAR, co-creator of Taproot Wizards) was transferred to Satoshi's address as part of a "burn" mechanism to ensure that no additional Runestones could be created. By using this method, the cost of inscribing and air-dropping to all eligible addresses came to roughly $0.88 per recipient.

Runestone Tokens

Ultimately, the stated main purpose of the Runestone Ordinal is to serve as a placeholder for the launch of a Runes Token. The creation of this token will utilize Runes, a new fungible token protocol developed by Ordinals creator Casey Rodarmor. Runes will offer a more efficient alternative to the BRC-20 token standard and is set to launch after the fourth Bitcoin halving (occurring at block 840,000). It is expected to allow for more seamless transactions and swaps.

As of this writing, the Runestone community has yet to decide on the exact supply and ticker for the upcoming Runes Token. However, the Runestone project’s leaders have determined that the token will also have a scheduled fair launch that follows the same principles as the Runestones Ordinals launch. 

What is the Goal Behind Runestones?

The Runestones project has two primary goals: to reward those who adapted to Bitcoin Ordinals early in the game, as well as to change the way we look at standard NFT frameworks. This meant avoiding traditional elements like farming and presales, focusing instead on equitability and rewards. Leonidas has stated that its open-source eligibility algorithm was specifically “designed to not favor whales.”

But Runestones aren’t just about seeing who can get their foot in the door fastest. From its earliest days, community engagement has been an essential part of the project’s ethos. “​​Remember that you earned your Runestone by showing up and participating in Ordinals when nobody else did,” Leonidas wrote on X. “This was the only way to get a Runestone.”

The nod to those who have earned a Runestone wasn’t lip-service. A huge element of the collection is its democratization. By design, there were no team allocations or pre-sales for major collectors. Instead, Leonidas sought to reward those who participated in Ordinals during its first year, and he focused on creating a 100% volunteer environment.

“I tweeted the idea… to do a massive airdrop to reward the year one Ordinals community,” Leonidas previously told Decrypt. “Over ten different companies in the Ordinals ecosystem have donated funds, engineering resources, etc., to help make it happen,” he added.

Leonidas has not been shy about the logic underpinning Runestones. As they wrote on X, “The primary use case for blockchains today (not forever) is number-go-up. The most honest form of number go up is non-utility meme coins.” The fact that Bitcoin is the world’s foremost chain also played a role, with Leonidas feeling that “the top blockchain in the world should have the top meme coin in the world.”

The Future of Runestones

Currently, Runestones remain one of the top collections on marketplaces like Magic Eden. As of this writing, the collection has a market cap of 4,200 BTC (over $292 million) and has generated about over 1,076 BTC in volume on the marketplace. 

As stated above, the Runestone project was developed in anticipation of the upcoming Runes protocol and is intended to ultimately be a part of its ecosystem. According to Leonidas, it’s not quite a Runes token, but rather a pre-Runes project. The general idea is that no token can truly be part of Runes before the protocol has actually dropped.

“The Runes ecosystem is currently Casey's core protocol, plus companies building explorers, DEXs, [and] wallets to support it, plus pre-Runes projects that plan on releasing Runes tokens when the protocol is released,” Leonidas explained, according to Decrypt.

Unlike many traditional collections, Runestones has no set roadmap. Its creator has described it as a meme coin and said there are no plans to introduce any roadmap for it. Nevertheless, the Ordinals community has rallied behind the project to pay homage to the original supporters of Ordinals, and to prepare for yet another chapter in Bitcoin’s history.

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