Brazil’s 200-year-old national museum in Rio de Janeiro has been destroyed after huge flames engulfed the structure late Sunday night. The museum had been closed for the day and no injuries have been reported, but most of the artifacts that date back centuries — including the oldest human remains discovered in the Americas — have been destroyed.
“The loss of the National Museum’s collection is insurmountable for Brazil. Two hundred years of work, research and knowledge were lost,” Brazilian President Michel Temer wrote on Twitter. “It’s a sad day for all Brazilians.”
Temer added that the losses were too great to be calculated.
BBC says there were more than 20 million artifacts inside of the building at the time the blaze broke out.
Among the 20 million items it housed were archaeological artifacts, fossils and the largest meteorite discovered in the country. The natural history collection included dinosaur bones and a 12,000-year-old skeleton of a woman known as “Luzia”, the oldest ever found in the Americas.
The fire began at approximately 7:30 p.m. local time, according to the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Marco Aurelio Caldas, a museologist who had worked at the institution for more than nine years, arrived at the scene shortly after the fire broke out and was heartbroken to see the museum in flames. Other museum workers and researchers were also close to the scene and reportedly were in tears as the fire continued to grow.
“This is 200 years of work of a scientific institution, the most important one in Latin America. Everything is finished. Our work, our life was all in there,” Caldas told Agencia Brasil, via CNN.
The museum was established in 1818 and once served as the home to the Portuguese royal family. It was the country’s oldest historical institution. Watching history literally go up in flames is painful for everyone to watch.