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How Many Bitcoins did Satoshi Mine?

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Detailed research shows that Bitcoins creator mined over 1 million BTC, the majority of which have never moved.

Back in 2013, Sergio Demian Lerner – now security consultant at Bitcoin smart contract project rsk.co – posted an article titled The Well-Deserved Fortune of Satoshi Nakamoto. The study used a new blockchain analysis technique based on ‘tracking the ExtraNonce fields in the Coinbase field of the Coinbase transaction, which is the one that creates bitcoins’. The findings were surprising, and compelling: a single entity, very likely Satoshi himself, had used a single computer to mine around 1 million bitcoins in 2009 and 2010. The majority of these coins, he found, have never moved since, though the owner did make donations totalling around 550 BTC to various individuals.

Lerner had already posted a similar analysis on bitcointalk, and had been roundly flamed for it; financial interests and anxieties over bitcoin’s distribution had trumped hard evidence. In the months and years since then, he has continued and built upon the analysis, which now supports the (widely accepted) thesis that Nakamoto is still sitting on a stash of over $5 billion in early-mined coins. The results of the analysis can be found at satoshiblocks.info.

The analysis uses privacy-related flaws in the early Bitcoin code to build up a pattern of mining – specifically, it is possible to see which blocks were mined by the same computer. One miner in particular mined a large number of blocks. Moreover, hardly any of those coins have ever been moved. Lerner calls this miner ‘Patoshi’. While it’s impossible to be certain it’s Satoshi, there can be no other realistic candidates; we know Satoshi mined actively, having launched the protocol; the pattern starts at the Genesis block; he would have kept a miner running so that the network didn’t grind to a halt (other individuals mined inconsistently in the early days, and the software could be temperamental); and we have other records (including emails) showing that he made a handful of small transactions to other people, making it possible to link these blocks to others mined by the same computer. Since the original study, Lerner has found other approaches that conclusively prove the analysis.

The bottom line is that someone – we have to assume it was Satoshi – mined around 1.1 million bitcoins, back when Difficulty was very low. They haven’t moved since. Perhaps they never will; perhaps he destroyed the private keys to prevent those funds being stolen or coerced from him, in the event he was outed. Or perhaps he’s just waiting for the right time.

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