Fire destroys Brazil’s National Museum with 20 million artifacts

Brazil’s National Museum, the country’s oldest and most important natural history museum, was engulfed in flames Sunday, with most of its priceless collection destroyed, officials said.

A fire burns inside the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Sunday. The museum houses some 20 million pieces that date back to the Brazilian imperial era. Authorities have said the cause of the fire is still unknown. Photo by Marcelo Sayao/EPA-EFE
A fire burns inside the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Sunday. The museum houses some 20 million pieces that date back to the Brazilian imperial era. Authorities have said the cause of the fire is still unknown. Photo by Marcelo Sayao/EPA-EFE

Nobody was injured in the fire, the cause of which is under investigation. But the 200-year-old museum had more than 20 million artifacts from around the world, including Egyptian mummies and historic artwork.
“The loss of the National Museum’s collection is insurmountable for Brazil. Two hundred years of work, research and knowledge were lost,” Brazilian President Michel Temer said in a tweet Sunday. “This is a sad day for all Brazilians.”

Luiz Duarte, a vice-director of the museum, told TV Globo the loss of the museum was an “unbearable catastrophe,” according to The Guardian.

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“It is 200 years of this country’s heritage. It is 200 years of memory. It is 200 years of science. It is 200 years of culture, of education,” he said.

But Duarte also said that politicians deserve some blame for not supporting the museum, which had fallen into significant disrepair due to lack of funding.

“For many years we fought with different governments to get adequate resources to preserve what is now completely destroyed,” he said. “My feeling is of total dismay and immense anger.”

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The National Museum has artifacts from around the world, including a large collection of rare pre-Colombian pieces, such as “Luiza,” the oldest skeleton found in the Americas.

The largest meteorite — 5.36 tons — ever found in Brazil was also in the museum. It was found in 1784.

The museum houses biological anthropology, archeology, ethnology, geology, paleontology and zoology, according to its website.

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It’s not yet clear which artifacts survived the fire.

“Very little will be left,” preservation director Joao Carlos Nara told Agencia Brasil. “We will have to wait until the firefighters have completed their work here in order to really assess the dimension of it all.”

The building, which used to be the home of a Portuguese royal family, was converted into a museum 200 years ago.

ByRay Downs And Allen Cone