Time flies, but the tracks of time remain in books and museums. This is what made a recent tragedy in Brazil even more terrible.
On Sept 2, a big fire ripped through the National Museum of Brazil, the oldest scientific institution in the country, in Rio de Janeiro. “Two hundred years of work, research and knowledge were lost,” Brazilian President Michel Temer wrote on social networking platform Twitter after the fire. “It’s a sad day for all Brazilians.”
Most of the 20 million pieces of history are believed to have been destroyed. Only as little as 10 percent of the collection may have survived, Time reported. Among all the items, there were Egyptian mummies, the bones of uniquely Brazilian creatures such as the long-necked dinosaur Maxakalisaurus, and a 11,500-year-old skull called Luzia, which was considered one of South America’s oldest human fossils.
Besides these, Brazil’s indigenous knowledge also suffered. The museum housed world-renowned collections of indigenous objects, as well as many audio recordings of local languages from all over Brazil. Some of these recordings, now lost, were of languages that are no longer spoken.
“The tragedy this Sunday is a sort of national suicide. A crime against our past and future generations,” Bernard Mello Franco, one of Brazil’s best-known columnists, wrote on the O Globo newspaper site.
The cause of the fire is still unknown, as BBC News reported on Sept 3. After the fire burned out, crowds protested outside the museum to show their anger at the loss of the irreplaceable items of historical value.
According to Emilio Bruna, an ecologist at the University of Florida, “museums are living, breathing repositories of who we are and where we’ve come from, and the world around us.
“Those insects pinned in a drawer, or those fish in a jar, or a feathered cape you might see in a display case – that represents a little piece of who we are as a people, as humans, as part of a greater world,” he told National Geographic.
Just as underwater grass floats on the surface if it loses its roots, a nation is lost without its memories. The fire at the National Museum of Brazil teaches the world an important lesson: We should never neglect history.