Brazil mourns ‘incalculable loss’ in National Museum fire

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  • A massive fire that may have started from a small flame on the roof gutted Brazil’s National Museum in Rio de Janeiro on the night of Sept. 2.
  • It’s not yet known how the museum’s more than 20 million scientific and historical items fared, but the blaze that destroyed the building’s roof and blew out every single window on the 200-year-old structure.
  • The priceless artifacts known to have been lost include Luzia, believed to be the oldest human remains ever found in the Americas.
  • The museum had been struggling to meet maintenance needs due to budget shortfalls, and experts had warned of fire risk.

A massive fire ravaged Brazil’s National Museum (Museu Nacional) in Rio de Janeiro on the night of Sept. 2. The losses to the country’s oldest scientific institution and its approximately 20 million scientific and historical items are believed to be significant. The museum’s historic 200-year-old building was also home to one of the largest natural history and anthropology collections in the Americas.

Marina Silva, a left-wing candidate for president, tweeted on Sept. 3 that “the catastrophe” of the museum fire “is equivalent to a lobotomy in Brazilian memory.”

The Sept. 2, 2018, fire at the National Museum of Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro. Image by Felipe Milanez.

The museum and its collections encompass zoology, archaeology, ethnology, geology, paleontology and biological anthropology. It has also been a research center since its founding in 1818 by King João VI. In 1946 it was incorporated into the University of Brazil, now known as UFRJ. One section focused on Brazilian archaeology and indigenous ethnology.

Among the lost artifacts is Luzia, believed to be the oldest human remains ever found in the Americas at about 11,500 years old. The reconstructed skeleton of a dinosaur dubbed Maxakalisaurus, parts of which were discovered in Minas Gerais in 1998, are believed to have been destroyed as well.

A former home to the Portuguese royal family during the mid- to late 19th century, the museum building was a national heritage site and served as a museum since 1892.

Scientists and researchers around the world are lamenting the destruction of, in some cases, lifelong scientific and research-based work in what Brazilian President Michel Temer has described as an “incalculable loss.” Angry crowds gathered on Monday and Tuesday outside of the museum ruins demanding answers, according to CNN.

GloboNews television showed the museum ablaze as the roof collapsed.

The museum’s deputy director, Luiz Fernando Dias Duarte, said in an interview with GloboNews that there was a “disregard” by the government toward critical funding issues faced by the museum in recent years.

The September 2, 2018 fire at the National Museum in Brazil. Photo by Felipe Milanez.
The Sept. 2, 2018, fire at the National Museum of Brazil. Image by Felipe Milanez.

“We have had tremendous difficulty in obtaining these resources … we have never had an efficient and urgent support,” Duarte said.

He said the scope of the destruction was significant.

“The historical archive of the museum, 200 years of the country’s history, has been totally destroyed.”

Discussions over the museum’s general state of disrepair had already been an issue. The museum had been struggling to meet maintenance needs due to budget shortfalls, and experts had long warned of fire risk.

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This story first appeared on Mongabay

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