Brazil’s National Museum burst into flames Sunday evening at 7:30 PM. The museum contained 20 million items, including the oldest human remains to be discovered in the Americas. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined and firefighters suspect that very little will be saved.
The building was originally the residence and court of the Portuguese royal family during the Napoleonic era and was later converted into a museum.
“The loss of the National Museum’s collection is insurmountable for Brazil” said President Michel Temer.
A number of museum researchers, academics and employees came out to the scene of the fire to lament the loss of its collection. Firefighters were able to eventually save some items from the collection but fear that most of the damage will be irreparable.
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The museum was managed by the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Employees cited the dilapidated and underfunded state of the museum as potential causes for the conflagration.
“We fought years ago, in different governments, to obtain resources to adequately preserve everything that was destroyed today,” said deputy museum director Luiz Fernando Dias Duarte.
Among the lost artifacts were the oldest remains ever discovered in Brazil. “Luzia” was a prominent feature of the museum’s exhibit- an 11’000 year old skeleton of a 25 year old woman. A Roman fresco retrieved from Pompeii is also believed to have been lost in the fire.
The surprise fire comes at a time where Brazil faces an increasing state of economic uncertainty and growing political violence on the streets.
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