On September 2, 2018, the National Museum of Brazil (Museu Nacional de Brasil) was engulfed in flames. Nearly all of its 200 million artifacts were lost. You can check out some highlights of the collection here, which demonstrate the enormous extent of the tragedy.
One of the most celebrated items in the collection was Luzia Woman, the oldest human remains found in the Americas.
Dedicated museum staff and firefighters saved as many artifacts as they could. As one of the directors announced, “We managed to save a few things. We broke into one of the doors before the flames took over and managed to save a couple of artifacts.”
One of the few artifacts to survive the fire was a piece of Bendegó, one of the world’s largest meteorites.
The museum was chronically underfunded and unappreciated. It did not have the infrastructure to protect the collections against a fire. Even the fire hydrants outside of the museum were not functioning when the firefighters arrived. The museum also lacked funds for proper day-to-day upkeep. Dedicated academics who researched museum collections raised money to pay for cleaning services. Those researchers’ careers have been engulfed in the flames along with the collections they supported.
While we mourn the loss of an internationally renowned institution and millions of priceless artifacts, we must remember that this tragedy was preventable. We need to support our public heritage or we risk losing it. If you’re a U.S. citizen, call your representatives and demand that we generously fund the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Park Service, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Science Foundation, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. You can also donate your time and money to local museums and heritage sites. Together, we can help prevent tragedies like the fire at the National Museum of Brazil.
Follow me on Twitter @441isabel