Brazil’s National Museum tries to recover one year after devastating fire

Global Business

Brazil’s National Museum tries to recover one year after devastating fire

The massive fire that destroyed Brazil’s National Museum one year ago has been repeatedly called a tragedy that could have been avoided. Housing 20 million artifacts, it was one of the most important natural history and anthropological museums in the Americas.

Years of financial neglect left the building at risk. Although the losses were hard to calculate, a significant number of treasures are being recovered.

CGTN’s Lucrecia Franco reports.

On the night of September 2nd, 2018, an inferno that lasted for hours consumed some of the world`s most precious artifacts inside Brazil’s iconic National Museum. The building housed more than 20 million items from both Brazil and abroad.

Officials blamed the fire on a short circuit in the air-conditioning system, a lack of sprinklers and nearby water hydrants that were dry. Many wondered why there was a systemic lack of funding and neglect.

“We just had signed in June fifth the contract that would give us roughly four million dollars for our institution/ And this is the irony of it all.  Now the money arrived after decades of no resources for this kind of investment, it arrives in the same year the museum completes 200 years and then the tragedy happens,” recalls Alexander Kellner, the museum’s director.

Part of that money has been used to cover the roof of what was once a palace that served as residence of the Portuguese Royal Family in Rio de Janeiro and then converted into Brazil’s National Museum.

If the building itself held historical importance, much of the collection that was lost was priceless: bones of Brazilian dinosaurs, Egyptian artifacts and millions of insects, among other treasures up in smoke.

The devastating fire severely damaged the main building and most of its collection was reduced to ashes. But since the tragedy, staff are recovering more than expected. Thousands of items have been rescued from the rubble and there are hopes that with the help of international community the museum can be brought back to life.

Paleontologist Luciana Carvalho, vice-coordinator of the rescue team says the museum will one day reopen: “It is obvious we suffered a huge loss, and we need help. For example, the mummies that even if we recover the bones is not enough to recover data, but on the other hand, there is the survival of ceramics, rocks, minerals and fossils. It will take some time for us to open it to the public, but we will.”

The only artifact left on the main floor was a meteorite, weighing more than five tons, the largest ever found in Brazil. Also, among the recovered items, there are parts of “Luzia,” the 12-thousand-year-old remains of a human skull considered the centerpiece of the museum’s collection.

Meanwhile, dozens of the museum’s staff are cleaning the soot and the dust-off fragments that have been found. It is a delicate job says archeologist Cleide Martins: “Here in the lab we are still not in the phase of restoring these objects. It is a first preventive conservation effort to save and avoid losing parts of the material”.

Containers are packed with recovered items. It could take years to finish classifying all the material. Replacing the collection will be impossible without the help of other museums.

“We will not be able to rebuild the National Museum without their help because our museum not only housed material from Brazil, we had material from all over the world and at this point what we would like is that institutions from all places, including China consider, when we are ready, then that they would make donations of original material”, sad Kellner.

From the rubble and despair comes hope as more items are recovered and restored. Optimistic officials say the museum is alive and the research continues.