Brazil suffers incalculable loss after a massive fire engulfs its 200-year-old National Museum

PHOTO: A massive fire engulfs the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, one of Brazils oldest, Sept. 2, 2018. The cause of the fire was not yet known, according to local media.PlayAFP/Getty Images
WATCH Brazil's 200-year-old National Museum engulfed in flames

A fire destroyed an entire collection of more than 20 million historical pieces at Brazil's National Museum in Rio de Janeiro Sunday night -- including a 12,000-year-old fossil called Luzia which is the oldest dated skeleton in the Americas -- an incalculable loss for the Brazilian people.

"For us [Brazilian people], Luzia is the ultimate Brazilian," Ana Cristina, a 45-year-old who works for the Municipality of Rio de Janeiro state, told ABC News. "Every Brazilian studied her in school no matter how old we are. We all know Luzia and now it's over. It is very sad."

It is 200 years of Brazilian's heritage. It is 200 years of memory. It is 200 years of culture. My feeling is an immense anger. Definitely an unbearable catastrophe.

Marina Amaral, a Brazilian historical colorist, explained that in addition to the skull of Luzia, a collection of Egyptian mummies acquired by Emperor Dom Pedro I in the 1800s was also destroyed.

The building itself was a loss for the nation, too.

PHOTO: People watch as a fire burns at the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, Sept. 2, 2018.Ricardo Moraes /Reuters
People watch as a fire burns at the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, Sept. 2, 2018.

"The building was the place where the proclamation of independence of Brazil was signed in 1822," Amaral said. "The original document, as well as many archives, were probably lost in this fire."

The cause of the devastating fire remains unclear.

It was like setting Versailles on fire. Years of history that can never be recovered.

The country was already shocked by a series of political corruption cases in the upcoming presidential elections and now has to face the destruction of a priceless collection of art representing its national identity.

The museum was founded in 1818 by King John VI of Portugal. It used to be a palace for the royal family under Portuguese rulers, and later, for the Brazilian imperial family. It has served as a museum since 1892.

PHOTO: This file photo taken on Sept. 20, 1999 of a reconstruction of the head of Luzia, the first Brazilian woman, during its presentation at the National Museum of History in Rio de Janeiro.Antonio Scorza/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on Sept. 20, 1999 of a reconstruction of the head of 'Luzia,' 'the first Brazilian woman,' during its presentation at the National Museum of History in Rio de Janeiro.

Luiz Duarte, vice director of the museum, said on Brazilian TV that he had asked for many years for additional funding to protect all the museum's resources.

"It is 200 years of Brazilian's heritage," Duarte said. "It is 200 years of memory. It is 200 years of culture. My feeling is an immense anger. Definitely an unbearable catastrophe."

PHOTO: Police stand in the front of the National Museum of Brazil after a devastating fire, Sept. 3, 2018, in Rio de Janeiro.Buda Mendes/Getty Images
Police stand in the front of the National Museum of Brazil after a devastating fire, Sept. 3, 2018, in Rio de Janeiro.

Felipe Barroso, a 29-year-old architecture student, told ABC News that there was a real lack of maintenance despite the building being the largest natural history museum in Latin America.

For us [Brazilian people], Luzia is the ultimate Brazilian. Every Brazilian studied her in school no matter how old we are. We all know Luzia and now it's over. It is very sad.

A spokesperson for the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, which supervises the museum, told ABC News that the museum was only receiving 60 percent of its budget this year.

PHOTO: The National Museum stands gutted after an overnight fire in Rio de Janeiro, Sept. 3, 2018.Mario Lobao/AP
The National Museum stands gutted after an overnight fire in Rio de Janeiro, Sept. 3, 2018.

The last president who visited the National Museum was Juscelino Kubitschek in 1961, according to Amaral.

"Not much of our history has been physically preserved," she said. "It was like setting Versailles on fire. Years of history that can never be recovered."

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