Students Work to Commemorate Destroyed National Museum

Halley Pacheco de Oliveira/Wikimedia Commons
Sep 21, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

After a fire tore through Brazil's National Museum on September 2, students are gallantly trying to put some of the pieces back together. The fire that ripped through the 200-year-old museum burned millions of objects -- and consumed history. 

Students at UNIRIO, the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro, are sharing images of their visits to the building and of the collection. They decided to expand their informal collection to the public and issued a request: please send more.

They have received thousands of images -- photos, videos, and selfies -- of the museum's forever-gone relics. 

Dornicke/Creative Commons

The museum, now long plagued by budget problems, desperately needed repairs. Some parts were not strong enough for visitors. 

The buildling itself is an artifact. It was the palace of the exiled Portuguese royal family from 1808 to 1821, after they fled Rio de Janeiro in 1807 to escape Napoleon. It also housed Brazil's post-independence emperors until 1889, before the museum collections arrived in 1902.

Over 20 million items lost, including the oldest human fossil found in the country, mummies from South America, an 11th century BC Egyptian coffin, and the largest lace bug collection in the world.

There were specimens of local wildlife not curated anywhere else. 

The museum also lost its extensive art collection from indigenous people across Brazil -- costumes, ornaments, artifacts, and audio recordings of indigenous languages that have long since faded.

One object that did survive is the five-ton Bendegó meteorite, the largest found in Brazil. Technicians braved the fire to save about 80 percent of the mollusk holotypes, specimens that serve as global reference points.

The museum's vertebrate specimens, herbarium and the library also survived.

Most importantly, the museum's greatest asset remains intact: its people. Some of the world's leading experts in social anthropology, archaeology, botany, geosciences, linguistics, and zoology are working to put the pieces back together.

The UNIRIO students collecting the photos are also museum studies majors, and they're hoping to rebuild something from only the photos that remain.

Want to contribute? Add photos to Wikipedia Commons or email the photos to:

Learn more about studying in Brazil. 

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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