Second Brazilian museum fire in two years reignites calls for reform

Researchers in Brazil are sifting through the ashes of a fire that destroyed part of a museum in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais on 15 June. The blaze follows repeated warnings about fire risks at museums, and comes less than two years after a massive inferno gutted the prized National Museum in Rio de Janeiro.

The latest fire has reopened wounds in the research community and intensified a national conversation about the need to protect Brazil’s cultural and scientific heritage.

Mariana Lacerda, a geographer at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) in Belo Horizonte, received a disturbing Monday-morning call: a building at the university’s Natural History Museum and Botanical Garden, which she’d directed for almost a year, was in flames. When she arrived on the scene, smoke was still coming out of a single-storey building that housed thousands of artefacts, skeletal remains and taxidermied animals, many collected several decades ago.

Fire damage

Two storage rooms full of fossils and large archaeological objects were covered in soot and smoke. Flames had partly consumed a third room, which housed folk art, Indigenous artefacts and biological specimens. Two further rooms, housing important collections of insects, shells, birds, mammals, human bones and ancient plant remains were almost completely lost.

For these, “little hope remains of material that can be recovered”, Lacerda says. “Something that is so slow to build was destroyed so quickly, in just over an hour.”

Archaeologist André Prous, who started working at the museum in 1975, was devastated. He and his colleagues had amassed a collection of human remains from a range of periods, including some from the earliest known inhabitants of Brazil, as well as samples of cultivated and wild plant species. Prous had also seen part of his life’s work disappear during the 2018 fire at the National Museum, when ancient skulls that he helped to collect in the 1970s were destroyed.

“The sadness is matched only by the fear that other, similar disasters will continue to destroy [Brazil’s] scientific heritage,” he says.[…]

Continue reading: Second Brazilian museum fire in two years reignites calls for reform

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