Statement regarding the fire at Museu Nacional do Brasil

Dear colleagues,

It is with deep regret that we witnessed on September 2 one of our most important museums, the Museu Nacional, located in Rio de Janeiro, taken by the flames, with a huge part of a collection of 20 million items lost to the fire. Probably many of you must have read the news about the great fire, however we would like to talk a little about the importance of the Museum for our History, our Science and our Culture.

For those who did not know it, the beautiful building of the Museu Nacional was, during the Imperial period of Brazil, the former residence of the Portuguese Royal Family (before the Independence) and the Brazilian royal family (after independence and until the proclamation of the Republic, when it was turned into a Museum).

The collection, initially constituted largely by the Emperor Pedro II effort, gathered millions of unique pieces from different parts of the world for decades during the nineteenth century, received as gifts or bought and collected during his trips. The museum had geological, zoological, botanical, paleontological, archeological and anthropological collections, which included objects from different cultures (Afro-Brazilian cultures, indigenous peoples, Ancient Egypt, Greco-Romans and etc.), millions of insect collections, hundreds of mammals of Brazilian fauna , an incredible geological collection with several meteorites, as well as a large collection of dinosaurs and pterodactyls found in Brazilian territory. One of the most valuable items in the collection was the fossil nicknamed Luzia, the oldest fossil found in the Americas, with 12,000 years old, which redefined the debates about the first settlements in America.

On the other hand, the Museu Nacional was also home to important research centers established in the 20th century, especially in the areas of Botany, Geology, Zoology, Anthropology and Archaeology. It had a huge library of Natural Sciences with about 470,000 volumes, several of these very rare, besides a set of researches and collections in the area of Anthropology. This collection consisted of years of research by important anthropologists of the institution, such as sound records of already extinct indigenous languages and audiovisual records of several tribes, which unfortunately could not be digitized.

This is just an overview of what was lost in order to get an idea of the tragedy. An investigation about the fire is still underway and the initial survey is that 90% of the collection was lost, in addition to the entire internal part of the Museum (the facade at least was able to withstand it). An immeasurable catastrophe in terms of loss of heritage. Despite the undeniable competence of technicians, researchers and managers who were fighting for the preservation of the institution and its collection, the Museu Nacional fell victim to deferred maintenance and budget cuts that impacted the ability to suppress the fire, a situation that plagues numerous cultural institutions.

Thus, we, as Ambassadors of IASA in Brazil, are at the disposal of the Museu Nacional and also to the colleagues of the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives to mediate possible contacts from institutions or professionals who wish to collaborate with the Museum in any way.

Best regards,
Bernardo Bortolotti
Marco Dreer
IASA Ambassadors in Brazil