Brazil National Museum is the skeleton of what it once was

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Faith Patton

Over the Labor Day weekend, Brazil’s National Museum, located in Rio de Janeiro, was victim of a fire that left the building a shell of what it once was.

90% of historical and scientific artifacts were destroyed, leaving a hole in the science and historical communities¬† — one that took about 200 years to fill. Some of the employees hoped that the artifacts that were being held in metal cabinets may have been able to survive the fire, but it’s still unlikely.

The building itself was over 200 years old and has historical significance, housing the Portuguese Royal family from 1808 to 1821. It also served as palace until 1889 for Brazil’s post- independence emperors. The museum’s collections were transferred there in 2002.

The museum represented and displayed what they saw as the gutting of Brazilian culture and living in years if corruption, economic despair and poor governance.

The irreplaceable loss left many scientists, employees and citizens in shock. Including the skull of Luzia, a near 12,000 year old female (one of the oldest remains found in the Americas), Egyptian mummies, a long-necked dinosaur that is native to Brazil, and the recordings of indigenous languages that were once spoken. A mere 10% of specimens survived because they were being displayed off location or were rescued in time.

The loss left a gaping hole in the science and historical communities in Brazil. “The indigenous collections are a tremendous loss,” says anthropologist Mariana Francozo, “we can no longer study them, we can no longer understand what our ancestors did. It’s heartbreaking.”

The government is under fire by protestors, museum directors and professors who lost all of their research. The museum was behind because of budget cuts and delayed renovations, which left paint peeling off of walls and wiring exposed.

In 2014, the museum was supposed to receive $128,000 for renovations; instead, this year they received $13,000. However in 2015, the museum was forced to temporarily close its doors because it could no longer pay its cleaning staff.

Recently, the government had pledged that it would find a way to restore the building itself, but no amount of money or power could bring back what was lost; Maria Silva calls it ‘a lobotomy of Brazilian Culture.’