Françoise Nyssen, Minister of Culture, met with the Brazilian Ambassador to France to express to the Brazilian people all his support and solidarity in the face of this tragic fire. Françoise Nyssen assured him of the full expertise of the agents of the Ministry of Culture, whether in the field of museography, conservation or the management of collections and archives.
On September 2, 2018, a massive fire destroyed the Brazilian National Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Rio de Janeiro. A major scientific and cultural institution in Brazil and South America, the museum is one of the most important natural history museums in the world. Created in 1818 by the King of Portugal (before the independence of Brazil in 1822), it moved in 1892, in the heart of Quinto da Boa Vista Park, in the Saint Christopher Palace, a neo-classical work redesigned by architect Pierre Joseph Pézerat. Since 1946, the museum has been administered by the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Its collections, rich in over 20 million cultural objects, cover the fields of natural history (zoology, geology, botany, paleontology) and anthropology (anthropology, archaeology, ethnography). With an encyclopaedic vocation, they bear witness to the history of the civilizations of Latin America (pre-Columbian civilizations of Mesoamerica, Andean civilizations, Brazilian archaeology before colonization, Amazonian cultures) and other continents: Egypt (collection Jean-Baptiste Belzoni, Thebes and Karnak), Ancient Mediterranean (Greek and Roman ceramics, frescoes of Pompeii and Herculaneum, collection of the empress Thérèse-Christine), Africa, Oceania, Antarctica.
The National Museum of Rio de Janeiro is also home to the largest collection of objects (30,000) bearing witness to the material culture of the indigenous peoples and cultures of Brazil as well as to African and Afro-Brazilian culture.
For Brazil and for researchers around the world, this disaster represents a major disaster for the knowledge of the country’s history and the understanding of its cultural and natural diversity.
Currently, the causes of the fire are not known and the museum team is trying to assess the extent of the losses. All historical records have been consumed. Several properties of major heritage and scientific interest are permanently destroyed, such as the fossil of Luzia, the oldest hominid (c.11 500-13 000 years) discovered in Brazil in 1974 by a Franco-Brazilian team or the skeleton of the Maxakalisaurus topai, one of Brazil’s greatest dinosaurs. The meteorite of Bendego found in 1794, one of the most important in the world (5.36 T), a replica (before 1811) of the throne of the king of Abomey, Adandozan, also disappeared.
Beyond these emblematic pieces, entire sections of Brazilian cultural heritage (living archives and human memories) have been destroyed.
The French museums (notably the National Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Man, the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum) are long-standing partners of Brazilian cultural institutions with which they have established scientific cooperation. In 1985, but especially in 2005 (year of Brazil in France) and 2009 (year of France in Brazil), the French public was able to discover the cultural vitality of Brazil. The Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (1973) contributed to a progressive awareness of the issues of protection of the natural heritage, relayed to Brazil by FUNAI (National Indian Foundation).
The teams of the French museums are at the full disposal of the Brazilian teams, in liaison with the services of the Embassy of France in Brazil, as assured by the Ambassador with whom the Minister of Culture also had an exchange.