ABC News(RIO DE JANEIRO) — A fire destroyed an entire collection of more than 20 million historical pieces at Brazil’s National Museum in Rio de Janeiro Sunday night — including a 12,000-year-old fossil called Luzia which is the oldest dated skeleton in the Americas — an incalculable loss for the Brazilian people.
“For us [Brazilian people], Luzia is the ultimate Brazilian,” Ana Cristina, a 45-year-old who works for the Municipality of Rio de Janeiro state, told ABC News. “Every Brazilian studied her in school no matter how old we are. We all know Luzia and now it’s over. It is very sad.”
Marina Amaral, a Brazilian historical colorist, explained that in addition to the skull of Luzia, a collection of Egyptian mummies acquired by Emperor Dom Pedro I in the 1800s was also destroyed.
The building itself was a loss for the nation, too.
“The building was the place where the proclamation of independence of Brazil was signed in 1822,” Amaral said. “The original document, as well as many archives, were probably lost in this fire.”
The country was already shocked by a series of political corruption cases in the upcoming presidential elections and now has to face the destruction of a priceless collection of art representing its national identity.
The museum was founded in 1818 by King John VI of Portugal. It used to be a palace for the royal family under Portuguese rulers, and later, for the Brazilian imperial family. It has served as a museum since 1892.
Luiz Duarte, vice director of the museum, said on Brazilian TV that he had asked for many years for additional funding to protect all the museum’s resources.
“It is 200 years of Brazilian’s heritage,” Duarte said. “It is 200 years of memory. It is 200 years of culture. My feeling is an immense anger. Definitely an unbearable catastrophe.”
Felipe Barroso, a 29-year-old architecture student, told ABC News that there was a real lack of maintenance despite the building being the largest natural history museum in Latin America.
A spokesperson for the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, which supervises the museum, told ABC News that the museum was only receiving 60 percent of its budget this year.
The last president who visited the National Museum was Juscelino Kubitschek in 1961, according to Amaral.
“Not much of our history has been physically preserved,” she said. “It was like setting Versailles on fire. Years of history that can never be recovered.”
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