Brazilian Museum Fire: What Happened?

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Brazilian Museum Fire: What Happened?

The world famous Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro ablaze.

The world famous Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro ablaze.

Leo Correa

The world famous Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro ablaze.

Leo Correa

Leo Correa

The world famous Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro ablaze.

Isaac Sharp, Senior Staff Writer

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       The devastating fire in the world famous Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro on a Sunday evening, September 2nd was a scientific tragedy.  Some sources say it could have been prevented, or at least lessened, with proper fire protection protocols. According to the Financial Times, this fire may have been due to the building lacking an adequate fire extinguishing system. 

       The building itself was a piece of history, it used to be the home for the Portuguese royal family.  About 200 years ago it was turned into a museum. Since it was founded, it has collected over 20 million artifacts, some not even from Brazil.  It housed remains of the oldest known Brazilian woman and the largest meteorite ever found in Brazil. Not only was it filled with priceless artifacts, but also with many documents of international research.  After the fire, a Brazilian government official immediately proposed that every other museum in the country be evaluated for fire preparedness.

       Some of the objects lost in the fire or feared destroyed were: the fossil Maxakalisaurus topai (largest dinosaur species discovered in Brazil, pictured below), the nearly 12,000 year old skull of the first-known Brazilian woman, the never-opened Egyptian sarcophagus of Sha-amun-em-su, which dates back to 750 BC, a collection of Pompeian frescoes believed to be from the Temple of Isis, and the collection of thousands of artifacts of Native peoples such as, baskets, ceramics, musical instruments, weapons, crowns, and others.  One of the greatest losses according to The Atlantic was the “audio recordings of indigenous languages, some of which are no longer spoken; entire tongues went up in flames.”

 

Maxakalisaurus topai
dinosaur fossil

One of the objects that survived the fire was the famous 5.6 ton meteorite of Bendegó.  Luckily, according to The Atlantic the museum’s herbarium, its main library, and some of its vertebrates were housed in a different building and were safe from the fire, but that only accounts for 10 percent of the collection.  To put it in perspective, the other 90 percent of the museum’s collection that was lost includes twice as many specimens as the entire British Museum.

          Public services in Brazil have been declining because of the loss in the government funding but according to The New York Times the tragic fire wasn’t only caused by the budgets but by mismanagement and corruption.  Also, according to this source, the two possible causes of the fire might have been from a paper balloon propelled by a small flame landing on the roof (which are illegal but are still used sometimes for celebrations) or from a short circuit in a laboratory.  

         The New York Times also reported that the museum was going to be given 5 million dollars just a few weeks after the fire for a complete overhaul including a fire-suppression system.  Contradicting that point is a CNN report stating that over the past two years there have been absurd cuts in the budget.  A Brazilian anthropology student comments, “In my class alone the cuts were around 70%.”  According to the Financial Times the Brazilian politicians often squander money. Recently the Senate spent the equivalent of the museum’s budget replacing the royal blue carpet in its chamber. A lower house of congress annually uses similar amounts of money to wash its leaders’ cars.

Graph of the budget of the Museum

           How do we know that our budget isn’t being slaughtered for personal things like washing cars?  It is also concerning what we have lost and how it will affect us in the future. Mrs. Meehan, an 8th grade science teacher at Dana, says, “Anytime any type of artifact is lost it is a tragedy, having primary pieces of artifacts is vital to research.” One of the many reasons she says this is because of the thousands of artifacts and research papers lost or thought to be lost in the fire. For now, all we can do is search for remains and enforce fire protection systems in all other museums.

Aerial view of the once great Museu Nacional

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