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200 Years of Brazilian History Were Destroyed in a Fire Last Night

The National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janiero was consumed by fire. Here's what was lost.

Last night, the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janiero was consumed by fire. In total, it took firefighters over 6 hours to put out the blaze, and by the time the flames were extinguished, 200 years of Brazilian history was gone.

“It is an unbearable catastrophe. It is 200 years of this country’s heritage. It is 200 years of memory," Luiz Duarte, a vice-director of the museum said to TV Globo, according to the Guardian. "It is 200 years of science. It is 200 years of culture, of education.”

At this point, it's still difficult to calculate the damage in a meaningful way. The museum’s deputy director Cristiana Serejo told reporters that roughly 90 percent of the collection, which included historic artworks, fossils, dinosaur bones, and Egyptian mummies, among other notable pieces, was destroyed.

“It could be 10 percent, it could be 15, it could be 20,” she said, trying to quantify how much of the 20 million artifact collection survived. “We had a very big loss.”

According to Serejo, the museum’s entire Egyptology collection was destroyed.

But the fate of Luzia, a skeleton which is more than 10,000 years old and one of the museum's most highly priced artifacts, is still unknown. At this point, it seems highly unlikely that the bones would survive the fire. “We are strongly hoping that she survived, but it’s very difficult,” Maurilio Oliveira, a paleoartist at the museum told the New York Times. “The skull is very fragile. The only thing that could have saved it is if a piece of wood or something fell and protected it.”


The cause of the fire has yet to be determined, but many have already started to blame the Brazilian government for the devastation, which would have been avoidable if the museum had proper safety measures in place. The New York Times reported that "beyond a few fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, the museum did not have a fire-suppression system, officials said."

The Wall Street Journal reports that "An official from Brazil’s National Museum says he and his colleagues knew about fire risks at the building and worried about them every day."

This story originally appeared on

*Minor edits have been made by the editors

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Caroline Hallemann
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