Oldest human remains in Americas among artifacts destroyed in fire at 200-year-old Rio de Janeiro museum

03:01 - 04/09/2018

Brazil‌s National Museum was gutted by a massive fire Sunday night in Rio de Janeiro that destroyed most of the 20 million pieces inside, including some of the region‌s oldest human remains and Egyptian mummies.

The loss of history was described as a "lobotomy of the Brazilian memory" by a former environment minister. The museum, which celebrated its 200th anniversary this year, is the biggest collection of natural history in the region.

TV footage late Sunday showed two huge columns of smoke burning on either end of the museum, trailing up into the night sky. Most of the windows of the 19th century building were lit up by the flames within. On Monday morning, firefighters – who battled the blaze throughout the night – laid out the remains of what had been salvaged, but it will be weeks before the scale of the loss can be known.

Officials have blamed the origins of the blaze, which began after the museum had been closed to the public, on neglect and poor funding. The museum is entitled to a maintenance budget of $128,000, according to reports, of which it hasn‌t received the full amount since 2014. It received $13,000 from the Brazilian government this year, reported National Geographic.

“My feeling is of total dismay and immense anger,” Luiz Duarte, a vice director of the museum, told local media.

“For many years we fought with different governments to get adequate resources to preserve what is now completely destroyed,” he said.

Amongst some of the artefacts that are likely to have been lost in the blaze was the skull of Luzia, also known as Lucy; a woman believed to have lived 11,500 years ago. The discovery and analysis of her remains rocked the established wisdom around migration to the region.

The bones of the long-necked dinosaur Maxakalisaurus, unique to Brazil, are also likely to have been destroyed.

But some of the museum‌s collections survived. Reports on social and Brazilian media said that some items – such as the museum's reptile and fish collections and more than 40,000 mollusk specimens – were safe.

Anthropologist Mercio Gomes called for the museum and its lost collection to be rebuilt, saying on Facebook:  “We have to reconstitute our National Museum, remake natural science collections, Indigenous Art Collections, plant collections, animals, maps, anything that can be reconstituted from the past.

“We can't give up our story.”

In a statement, President Michel Temer said it was "a sad day for all Brazilians."

"Two hundred years of work, investigation and knowledge have been lost," said Temer.

In an interview with Brazil's TV Globo, the museum's director said it was a "cultural tragedy".

The vice director of the museum, Luiz Fernando Dias Duarte, told Globo news the museum suffered chronic underfunding.

According to the museum‌s website, many of its collections came from members of Brazil‌s royal family.

1198 View