'Incalculable' loss as National Museum of Brazil consumed by massive fire

200 years of priceless artefacts, including dinosaur bones and historical documents, are believed to be destroyed in the raging fire which engulfed the museum on Sunday 

Firefighters battled the raging fire which engulfed the museum on Sunday
Firefighters battled the raging fire which engulfed the museum on Sunday

Brazil’s oldest and most important historical and scientific museum, the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, has been gutted by a fire.

The fire in the 200-year-old museum began after it closed to the public on Sunday, with most of its collection, including fossil, artworks and documents spanning documents believed to be destroyed.

There were no reports of injuries, but the loss to Brazilian science, history and culture was incalculable, two of its vice-directors said.

“It was the biggest natural history museum in Latin America. We have invaluable collections. Collections that are over 100 years old,” Cristiana Serejo, one of the museum’s vice directors, told the G1 news site.

Marina Silva, a former environment minister and candidate in October’s presidential elections said the fire was like “a lobotomy of the Brazilian memory”.

Brazil's President Michel Temer said in a tweet that it was a "sad day for all Brazilians" as "200 years of work, research and knowledge were lost".

The natural history collection included dinosaur bones and a 12,000-year-old skeleton of a woman known as "Luzia", the oldest ever found in the Americas.

The building was also home to historical documents covering the centuries from the arrival of the Portuguese in the 1500s to the declaration of a republic in 1889.

Luiz Duarte, another vice-director, told TV Globo: “It is an unbearable catastrophe. It is 200 years of this country’s heritage. It is 200 years of memory. It is 200 years of science. It is 200 years of culture, of education.” TV Globo also reported that some firefighters did not have enough water to battle the blaze.

Duarte said that governments were to blame for failing to support the museum and letting it fall into disrepair. At its 200th birthday in June, not one state minister appeared. “For many years we fought with different governments to get adequate resources to preserve what is now completely destroyed,” he said. “My feeling is of total dismay and immense anger.”

Mércio Gomes, an anthropologist and former president of Brazil’s indigenous agency, Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI), compared the loss to the burning of the library of Alexandria in 48BC. “We Brazilians only have 500 years of history. Our National Museum was 200 years old, but that’s what we had, and what is lost forever,” he wrote on Facebook. “We have to reconstruct our National Museum.”

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