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Brazil’s National Museum in flames.

Rio’s National Museum, Home to Twenty Million Artifacts, Goes Up in Flames

Rio de Janeiro’s iconic National Museum of Brazil—which turned two hundred years old this June—went up in flames tonight, possibly transforming over twenty million historical objects into ash. The museum, which can be likened to Brazil’s version of the American Museum of Natural History in New York and is the country’s oldest scientific institution, had fallen on hard times recently due to the city’s shaky economy. No injuries have been reported so far, and authorities do not yet know the reason for the conflagration, which is still being extinguished by firefighters, according to the Estado de S. Paulo.

The blaze is the latest setback for a city already struggling with economic decline and widespread political corruption after hosting the 2016 Olympics. It’s likely that the institution, which has seen a recent plunge in attendance amid Rio de Janeiro’s overall decrease in tourism, had no mechanisms in place for quelling the fire. Employees had allegedly expressed worry about funding cuts and the neglected state of the building.

The museum’s expansive collection included what are largely considered the most important anthropological and ethnographical records concerning Brazil, some of the first fossils found in the country, ancient Egyptian mummies, one of Brazil’s largest scientific libraries, Greco-Roman art, and the most extensive numismatic collection in Latin America. Luiza, one of the oldest human skeletons discovered in Latin America, also resided in the institution.

President Michel Temer said that it was a “sad day for all Brazilians,” adding that “The value of our history cannot be measured by the damage to the building.”

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