Reduced to ashes

There’s the dreadful news from Rio:

The stately national museum, once home to Brazil’s royal family, was still smoldering at sunrise on Monday when scores of researchers, museum workers and anthropologists began gathering outside, dressed in black.

Some sobbed as they began taking stock of the irreplaceable losses: Thousands, perhaps millions, of significant artifacts had been reduced to ashes Sunday night in a devastating fire. The hall that held a 12,000-year-old skeleton known as Luzia, the oldest human remains discovered in the Americas, was destroyed.

In recent years, state and city governments in Brazil have failed to pay police officers and doctors on time. Public libraries and other cultural centers have shut down. The ranks of the unemployed and homeless have swelled.

The museum itself was not spared, falling into disrepair as the country struggled. It got so bad, local news media reports said, that professors who worked at the museum resorted to collecting money to help pay for cleaning services. Beyond a few fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, the museum did not have a fire-suppression system, officials said.

No fire suppression system – good lord. I’d assumed, without thinking about it, that all museums would have the best fire-suppression system available, on account of how the stuff inside them is irreplaceable.

It took more than six hours for 80 firefighters from 21 stations to extinguish the blaze. On Monday, they scoured through piles of ashes searching for salvageable pieces from a museum that had housed a trove of indigenous artifacts, as well as Latin America’s pre-eminent collection of Egyptian mummies and Roman frescoes from the ancient city of Pompeii.

Cristiana Serejo, the deputy director of the museum, told reporters on Monday afternoon that about 10 percent of the museum’s collection had been spared. Among the surviving materials were a large meteorite and a portion of the zoology exhibit.

Mr. Oliveira, the paleoartist, said museum officials were all but resigned to the loss of the Luzia remains…

“We are strongly hoping that she survived, but it’s very difficult,” he said. “The skull is very fragile. The only thing that could have saved it is if a piece of wood or something fell and protected it.”

The fire wiped out years’ worth of research by botanists, marine biologists, paleontologists and entomologists.

Beatriz Resende posted photos on Facebook:

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