Brazil’s National Museum Has Burned Destroying Millions of Artifacts

National Museum of Brazil by Halley Pacheco de Oliveira

Sunday night, Brazil’s National Museum was consumed by a massive fire, destroying nearly its entire collection of 20 million artifacts from the past 11,000 years, CNN reports.

The museum was founded in 1818 with the goal of promoting scientific research by opening its collection to scientists. It was housed in what was once the royal palace. There are no reports of injuries from the fire but researchers, museum staff, and professors were in shock as they rushed to the scene.

Many of them cried as they watched flames consume the building. Marco Aurelio Caldas, who worked at the museum for nine years, was overcome by the loss.

“This is 200 years of work of a scientific institution — the most important one in Latin America,” he told Agencia Brasil.”Everything is finished. Our work, our life was all in there.”


The museum’s collection included the oldest known human remains to be discovered in Brazil, a 25 year old woman named “Luzia”, and a meteorite weighing 5.36 tons. The museum also housed rare mummified Andean skeletons, an extensive Egyptian and Greco-Roman exibit, and artifacts from indigenous cultures.

According to the BBC, a few thousand specimens were saved by Professor Paulo Buckup, the museum’s expert in fish science, when he arrived to find parts of the building  yet untouched by the fire. With the help of firefighters and soldiers, he was able to enter the burning building and rescue a small portion of the museum’s collection of mollusks. 

The cause of the fire, which started Sunday evening after the museum closed for the day, is unknown. But lack of funding and the dilapidated condition of the building is being blamed. 

A deputy director at the museum, Luiz Fernando Dias Duarte, expressed “immense anger”, and accused Brazilian authorities of a “lack of attention”.

“We fought years ago, in different governments, to obtain resources to adequately preserve everything that was destroyed today.”

One issue appears to be the lack of a sprinkler system. Mr Dias Duarte told Globo TV that a $5.3m (£4.1m) modernisation plan agreed in June would have included the installation of modern fire prevention equipment, but only after October’s elections.


According to the museum’s librarian, Edson Vargas da Silva, the fire was especially intense because the building had wooden floors and contained “a lot of things that burn very fast”. Professor Buckup reported that the fire department was unable to adequately fight the fire because they had “no water, no ladders, no equipment”. Renato Rodriguez Cabral, a teacher in the geology and palaeontology department, told reporters that firefighters “basically could only watch the blaze”. 

Roberto Robadey, commander of the Rio fire department, told reporters on Monday the two hydrants outside the building were dry. That forced firefighters to use water from a nearby lake and rely on water trucks. But the building burned far too fast for any of that to help.

“In an ideal world, we would have many things that we don’t have here: sprinklers inside the building,” he said, adding that the fire department would investigate its response and take action if needed. “Yesterday was one of the saddest days of my career.”


Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, issued a statement via Twitter, “The loss of the National Museum’s collection is insurmountable for Brazil.” Brazilian Culture Minister Sergio Sa Leitao said the country is in mourning and the loss of the museum is a “tragedy that could have been avoided” but vowed that  reconstruction efforts would begin.

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