RIO DE JANEIRO - Firefighters found bone fragments from a collection in the still-smoldering National Museum, an official said Tuesday, raising hopes that a famed skull might somehow have survived a massive blaze that turned historic and scientific artifacts to ashes.
Flames tore through the museum Sunday night, and officials have said much of Latin America’s largest collection of treasures might be lost. Aerial photos of main building showed only heaps of rubble and ashes in the parts of the building where the roof collapsed.
The firefighters “found fragments of bones in a room where the museum kept many items, including skulls,” said Cristiana Serejo, the museum’s vice director. “We still have to collect them and take them to the lab to know exactly what they are.”
In its collection of about 20 million items, one of the most prized possessions is a skull called Luzia, which is among the oldest fossils ever found in the Americas.
Museum spokesman Marcio Martins noted that the collection contains hundreds of skulls, and all material would first need to be examined by the Federal Police, who are investigating the still-unknown cause of the fire. Experts will then examine them to determine their identity.
Investigators were first allowed to enter the main building Monday, but it is still off-limits to researchers. Instead, some scientists were focusing attention on an annex on the site, where vertebrate specimens were housed. The fire didn’t reach the area, but it caused the electricity to fail, threatening some artifacts.
“We have animals that need to be frozen, and they were rotting without electricity,” said Marcelo Wexler, a researcher in the vertebrate department.
Luiz Fernando Dias Duarte, a museum official, said Monday that anything held in the main building was probably destroyed, and Serejo told the G1 news portal that 90 percent of the collection may have been destroyed.