Two Centuries of Loss in One Night.

Sometimes it’s difficult to find words.


In a time of nonstop stimulation, the closest thing humans have ever had to the history of the entire universe at our fingertips, and unprecedented distraction and things to get worked up about, there are some things you just cannot let slip under your radar.

This past Sunday, September 2, 2018, a fire broke out at the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. Built in a centuries old Palace, the museum had celebrated it’s bicentennial celebration in June.

This loss is irreplaceable. The artifacts in museums, whether art, history, natural history, anthropology, or any other subject, are unique. This was one of the largest anthropological collections in the Americas. Each item held invaluable information for researchers…potential answers to questions that have yet to be thought of.

rio fire

Photo Credit: Leo Correa/Associated Press

It’s been almost completely destroyed and it’s not yet clear what–if anything–is salvageable. What is lost, is lost permanently, along with the disruption of the careers of some 90 researchers whose life work was made in the museum.

No small or insignificant collection, the National Museum of Brazil contained over 700 Greco-Roman artifacts, Egyptian mummies, thousands of artifacts from indigenous peoples of Brazil dating back over 1,000 years and including artifacts from early Afro-Brazilian cultures.

One loss, a skeleton named Luzia was first publicly displayed in 1999. She lived over 11,000 years ago and challenged long-upheld paradigms about the peopling of the Americas. No more can be learn from Luzia. She is gone. Along with 20 million other artifacts housed there.

Accidents happen. This was avoidable. Funding had been cut for the museum, which was never adequately funded in the first place. The building had no fire sprinklers and the budget was too tight to have them installed. Firefighters had no way to get water onto the fire.

To me, and to most academics, proper funding of education should be at the forefront of a society’s concerns. While the cause isn’t entirely known just yet, Culture Minister Sergio Sa Leitao has been quoted as saying that a small paper hot air balloon landing on the roof.

That this was (at this point) most likely due to governmental negligence is disgusting.


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