Fragments Of America's Oldest Human Remains Thought Lost In Brazil's Museum Fire Found In Rubble

The Sept 2 fire in the 200-year-old Brazil National Museum destroyed an estimated 20 million artifacts.  CP DC Press/Shutterstock

Officials are slowly putting the pieces back together after Brazil’s National Museum sadly burned down in September, and with it an estimated 20 million artifacts. Now, one of the museum's most prized possessions has been found and is bringing some good news out of the ashes of the disaster. 

Fragments of Luzia, the 12,000-year-old oldest human remains found in the Americas have been recovered, including an estimated 80 percent of the skull, which includes parts of the forehead and nose, the lateral bones, and a fragment of the femur, as well as a part of the box that the skull was stored in. Nicknamed “Luzia” in homage to Lucy, Africa’s 3.2 million-year-old fossilized remains, the skeleton was discovered during a 1975 excavation outside of the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte. She was thought to have been among the first wave of humans to migrate to South America and was believed to have been completely lost in the flames. 

This unexpected good news has people saying hope isn't lost for the museum's many important contributions to science. 

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Museum emergency workers started looking for the fossil and other artifacts about a month ago. Recovery efforts are expected to cost around $9 million Brazilian Real (approx USD$2.4 million) and will continue into February of next year, reports Globonews in Brazil. 

Many irreplaceable items significant to science and national knowledge are still believed to be lost forever, including mummies from South America, ancient artifacts from Egypt, dinosaurs, and other invertebrate specimens. Notably, one of the world’s largest meteorites survived the fire (it did survive crashing to Earth, after all).

Blame has been put on funding cuts that had left the former 18th-century royal palace inadequately outfitted in the event of a disaster like a fire.

“200 years of work, research and knowledge have been lost. The value of our history cannot be measured by the damage to the building that housed the royal family during the Empire. It's a sad day for all Brazilians,” Brazil’s president of Brazil tweeted at the time. 

The disaster has brought to light other scientific and historical collections that could be at a similar risk. A study earlier this year found more than 96 percent of museum fossils could be lost in similar disasters, issuing a “call to arms” from the scientific community to digitally archive collections around the globe.

[H/T: The Associated Press

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