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Brazil’s National Museum Hopes to Partially Reopen in 2022

It’s been a year since a fire destroyed more than half of the 20 million artifacts held in the museum’s collections

(Marcelo Fortes and João Pascoli/Museu Nacional)
smithsonian.com

A year has passed since a catastrophic fire gutted Brazil’s National Museum, destroying a majority of the 20 million artifacts in the 200-year-old building’s collections. Now, the museum says it plans to reopen the doors to one wing in 2022, in time to celebrate Brazil’s 200th anniversary.

Denise Pires de Carvalho, the dean of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, which is in charge of the museum, announced the plan at a press conference at the Brazilian Academy of Sciences. “Our intention is to inaugurate a part of the reconstructed palace in 2022 with expositions that let us celebrate the bicentennial of Brazil’s independence,” Pires said, according to Tanner West at artnet News.

The museum has raised about $16.4 million of the $30 million needed to reconstruct one section. The price tag to rebuild the entire museum is ballparked at around $125 million, though Gabriella Angeleti at The Art Newspaper reports that a more precise estimate will be available in the next few months.

So far, the Brazilian government has released less than 2 percent of the $14 million reconstruction budget set aside for the museum, which Brazil’s new president Jair Bolsonaro recently cut down to $11 million. NGOs, Unesco and foreign governments including Germany are also contributing funds. Crews are expected to begin restoring the building’s roof and façade this month.

Eleven artifacts that survived the fire have also gone on view at another museum, per the Associated Press. “I will suffer every day of my life because of this tragedy,” museum director Alexander Kellner said at the opening of the exhibition of the artifacts. “But today, we are turning the page and starting a new, necessary phase of reconstructing the museum. We are very optimistic.”

Initially, it was believed that 90 percent of the artifacts stored in the museum were lost. Over the last year, that number has been revised down. About half of the museum’s holdings—17 out of 34 collections—were completely or partially destroyed. That estimate includes the entomology collection, which stored 5 million specimens, and the native cultures collection, which included artifacts from Brazil’s indigenous peoples.

According to reporting by Smithsonian.com earlier this year, researchers have discovered more than 2,000 pieces in the rubble, including the 11,500-year-old skull of Luzia, the oldest human found in the Americas, and fragments of the museum’s most popular dinosaur skeleton.

At the press conference officials announced the recovery of other items, including a samurai mask and bronze statue of the Egyptian goddess Bastet. Other recovered items are being chronicled on the museum’s post-fire rescue portal.

While reconstruction on the museum is moving ahead, Kellner, the museum director, tells the AP that the effort is slow moving and frustrating. He was recently told by one agency that he needed a document proving that the fire happened. “I plead to the people who govern Brazil ... rethink all this bureaucracy,” he said.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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