History finds its way into entertainment

Film has long been a source of entertainment and is used as a platform to communicate a variety of messages. While some draw from historical events or real life happenstances, others are beautifully crafted works of complete fiction, such as the 2016 Oscar nominated science fiction film “Arrival.”

It focuses on a futuristic world where alien visitors arrive unexpectedly and Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams) struggles to decipher a message being broadcast in various parts around the world.  While the world is filled with conspiracy theories concerning extraterrestrial visitors, there is real research behind the work in Arrival in decoding unknown languages. Denise Schmandt-Besserat published an article describing the earliest known written communications in the forms of clay tokens, presumed to represent various goods within ancient Mesoamerican cultures. Teams of archeologists compiled hundreds of artifacts and found similarities among many but with slight differences, indicative of an intricate economic system. Tokens were classified under six categories of shapes and then variations were further catalogued under each heading.

These ancient symbols had to be deciphered much like the alien language in the film and without extensive research they too would be unsolvable.

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