Casiah Cagan | Report

The National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro went up in flames unexpectedly Sunday night, destroying an estimated 90% of its 20 million artifacts.

The 200-year-old museum played a crucial part in historical and scientific research both nationally and internationally.

The blaze was said to have started around 7:30 p.m. local time, and although the official cause is unknown, Culture Minister Sergio Leitao said he believes that the cause of the fire is likely either an electrical fault or a homemade paper hot-air balloon on the roof.

Roberto Robadey, a fire department spokesman, reported that the battle of the fire was initially a slow one due to the malfunction of the two fire hydrants closest to the museum. Trucks had to be sent out to retrieve water from a nearby lake.

“This is 200 years of work of a scientific institution — the most important one in Latin America,” Marco Aurelio Caldas, a worker at the museum, said to reporters. “Everything is finished. Our work, our life was all in there.”

At the time of the fire, the museum had been long closed to the public and no injuries were reported.

President Michel Temer called the blaze an “incalculable loss for Brazil,” in a tweet on Sunday following the news of the disaster. He went on to say that “200 years of work, research, and knowledge have been lost [but] the value of our history cannot be measured by the damage.”

Special artifacts in the National Museum included Luzia, an 11,500 year-old skull that has been considered one of the oldest human fossils in South America, as well as the bones of the Maxakalisaurus, a long-necked dinosaur which is believed to be unique to Brazil. The museum also held Latin America’s oldest collection of mummies and other ancient Egyptian artifacts.

Many researchers and scientists were devastated at the loss of their projects, as many of the objects they had been working with were destroyed in the fire and could never be replaced.

Aside from the precious artifacts, the building itself was historically significant as it served as a home from 1808 to 1821 to the exiled royal family of Portugal.

Roberto Leher of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro said that people were well aware that the structure was in need of many repairs due to its vulnerability to fire, but the museum underwent numerous years of neglect from the Brazilian government.

Since 2014, the National Museum of Brazil failed to receive it’s full $128,000 annual budget, instead receiving a scarce $13,000.

In 2015, the museum had to temporarily shut down because the lack of funds meant they could no longer properly pay their staff.

In May 2018, it had to close ten of their 30 exhibits to the public because of disrepair, peeling walls and exposed wiring.

A $6 million CAD renovation was given the green light not too long before the fire, which would have included an upgrade to the museum’s fire-prevention system.

Investigators are currently attempting to recover the artifacts that survived the fire, however the hopes are not high.

On Monday, $3.14 million CAD was promised by officials to mourning Brazilians to help rebuild the museum’s structure. Luiz Philippe de Orleans e Braganca, an heir to Brazil’s last emperor, stated that, “Those saying that the museum will be rebuilt are not telling the truth…[the] building could be rebuilt, but the collection will never again be rebuilt.”


Featured image of the National Museum of Brazil from Fabio Teixeria.

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