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News > Latin America

'Brazil in Tears': 90% of 20 Million Items at National Museum Destroyed by Fire

  • Brazil's National Museum in Rio de Janeiro is engulfed in fire.

    Brazil's National Museum in Rio de Janeiro is engulfed in fire. | Photo: Reuters

Published 5 September 2018

Novelist Paulo Coelho wrote that "Brazil is in tears."

As Brazil's National Museum in Rio de Janeiro went on up flames, so did approximately 90 percent of its collection, as well as items on loan from other museums.

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Adding insult to injury, Cristiana Serejo, the museum's deputy director, informed that neither the building nor its contents, roughly 20 million items, including Egyptian artifacts and the oldest known human fossil in the Americas, were insured.

Speaking in front of the buildings blackened shell, Serejo said a library of 500,000 books, which was maintained in a separate area and the famous Bendego meteorite were among the only items spared the wrath of the flames.

She digressed, however, confirming that the entire Egyptology collection was destroyed and that "it could be ten percent, it could be 15, it could be 20 (percent)" of the items that escaped the fire.

“I hope we learn from this,” she said. “Other public buildings are in the same situation,” Serejo lamented in reference to the fact that the museum was completely uninsured. She added that two fire hydrants had run out of water as firefighters attempted to put out the fire.

Firefighters combing the ruins Tuesday found some bones and fragments of a skull, renewing hopes that the museum’s main item, a 12,000-year-old skeleton known as “Luzia,” may have survived, according to The Guardian.

“Obviously we would love it to be Luzia, but we can’t confirm this,” said spokeswoman Fernanda Guedes. 

She went on to emphasize that the fragment was found in the biological anthropology area where other skeletons were kept.

According to The Express, the fire began around 7:30 p.m. local time Sunday in Rio de Janeiro. It quickly spread, engulfing the entire building. The cause of the massive blaze is under investigation.

Novelist Paulo Coelho wrote in The Guardian that "Brazil is in tears" because the national museum was burnt to ash. He blamed government neglect, as well as society at large for the incident.

"Ipiranga Museum in São Paulo, built where Brazilian independence was decreed in 1822, has been closed for five years. Now that the National Museum has died in flames, we wonder what can happen with Ipiranga. We wonder what can happen with our souls."

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