In September, a devastating fire tore through the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, destroying most of the more than 20 million artifacts that had been collected there over the past 200 years. Though restoration efforts are underway, it is not clear when the museum will be able to reopen to the public. But when it does, it will get a boost from some 30,000 artifacts recently discovered at the nearby RioZoo.
According to the Art Newspaper’s Gabriella Angeleti, the massive trove of artifacts dates back to Brazil’s imperial period. In 1808, the future Dom João VI fled Lisbon after the city was invaded by Napoleon’s troops—a move that “transported the seat of the European empire to the heart of the old Portuguese colony,” writes Brazil’s leading environmental historian Regina Horta Duarte. A local merchant gifted his sweeping villa, Quinta da Boa Vista, to the royals, who set about renovating it. The residence was subsequently known as Paço de São Cristóvão, or the Palace of St. Christopher.
It was Dom João who founded the Museu Real in 1818, which would become the National Museum by 1830. According to the Library of Congress, Congress, the museum was “dedicated to the study of botany and zoology in Brazil, seeking to incentivize the development of an interest in scientific knowledge in the colony now turned seat of the Portuguese Empire.”
In 1892, some three years after imperial rule was toppled and Brazil became a republic, the museum was moved from its original location to the Palace of St. Christopher. Saint Christopher Palace in the Quinta da Boa Vista park. The RioZoo, which is also located in the Quinta da Boa Vista park, was founded in 1888.
During the reign of Dom João’s successors, Pedro I and Pedro II, the region surrounding the royal residence was a village occupied by officials, military personnel and workers—both free and enslaved, reports Lise Alves of the Rio Times. Archaeologists think that some of the recently discovered artifacts—among which are plates, cutlery, painted pottery and fragments of uniforms with the imperial insignia—were gifted to residents of the village by the royal family.
“It worked as sort of a good neighbor policy,” archaeologist Filipe André Coelho tells Alves.
Around 11,000 objects were found in a roughly 3,200 square foot area, which likely once functioned as a garbage pit. But today, these discarded items are immensely precious—particularly as the National Museum begins the long and difficult process of recovery. Most of the newly discovered objects will be given to the museum, according to Angeleti. And some may be put on display in a temporary exhibition until the institution is ready to open its doors once again.