A large fire destroyed Brazil’s National Museum Sunday (Sept. 2), ruining one of Latin America’s most venerable cultural and research insitutions and the 200-year-old home of more than 20 million artifacts, according to its website.
No one has been reported injured or killed in the blaze itself, but a number of priceless artifacts are believed to have been destroyed. The most famous of those artifacts was Luzia, the 11,000-year-old skull of a Paleoindian woman whose remains are the earliest discovered in the Americas. A number of irreplaceable artworks and Egyptian mummies are also believed lost, though a full accounting is not yet possible, since investigators have yet to enter the building
Katia Bogea, president of the National Institute of Historic and Artistic Heritage, was quoted in the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper blaming the devastating loss on budget cuts resulting from a “crisis of values,” as translated by AFP. Brazil’s Rede Globo quoted the museum deputy director Cristiana Serejo as saying that about 10 percent of the museum’s collection survived, and that the immediate problem leading to the out-of-control blaze was that the smoke detectors weren’t working and the building’s fire suppression systems were limited.
The skull of a young Paleoindian woman, named “Luzia,” was dated as 11,000-11,500 years old.
A crowd of protestors gathered in the wake of the blaze and blamed politicians for neglecting the museum.
They indicated that funding had been redirected to other priorities, such as the 2016 Rio Olympics. The Herald reported that the crowd tried to enter the museum and was violently attacked by police wielding tear gas and batons.