Brazil’s Museum Fire Destroyed America’s Oldest Human Remains Dating Back Nearly 12,000 Years


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer


Luzia the Woman, pictured in the museum in 2015. Dornicke/Wikimedia Commons

Archaeologists have been counting the cost of the fire that devastated the National Museum of Brazil earlier this week, with some recompense among the mostly disastrous scene.

The fire at the museum on Sunday, September 2 claimed many of the collections inside – by some estimates up to 90 percent. Funding cuts have been blamed, and the country is now looking to raise money to rebuild Brazil’s oldest historical institution, established almost exactly 200 years ago.


Those losses include the oldest human remains in the Americas, a woman known as “Luzia” dating back nearly 12,000 years. Found in Brazil in 1975, she was thought to have been among the first wave of human immigrants to arrive in South America.


Many of the museum’s 20 million artifacts are also feared to be lost, particularly those in the main building. National Geographic noted this included fossils of dinosaurs (some unique to Brazil) and other creatures, Egyptian mummies and artifacts, and invertebrate specimens.

“When I saw the news about the tragedy, I just started crying, and all my colleagues, other archaeologists I know in Brazil, they had the same reaction – that’s a loss for all the world,” Brazilian archaeologist and PhD student Maria Ester Franklin Maia Silva told the website.

All is not lost, however. Because some reports have started to come in of priceless artifacts that survived the blaze for one reason or another. This includes the Bendegó Meteorite, the largest meteorite ever found in Brazil, dating back to 1784. Other meteorites are also thought to have survived.


Footage showed the Bendegó Meteorite was still intact

The full extent of the damage will not be known until the museum has been declared safe to enter. As the fire blazed, pictures circulated on social media of archaeologists doing their best to save some of the artifacts inside the museum. The cause of the fire is also not yet known, but the building was said to need repairs as it was susceptible to fire.


As mentioned the finger has been pointed at funding cuts, with the museum’s budget falling from $130,000 in 2013 to $84,000 in 2017. This has particularly not gone down well when the country spent billions of dollars hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“The money spent on each one of those stadiums, a quarter of that would have been enough to make this museum safe and resplendent,” the museum’s deputy director Luiz Fernando Dias Duarte said in an interview on Brazilian television, reported The Guardian.


“Look at the irony. The money is now there, but we ran out of time,” added Alexander Kellner, the museum’s director.

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