'The museum is alive' - Rio team toils to rescue items from devastating fire

The Guardian, December 28, 2018

Since a devastating fire gutted Rio’s National Museum and consumed most of its collection of 20m items, archaeologist Murilo Bastos, 35, has lived an upside-down life.

He used to work in an office inside the colonial palace, once the home of the Portuguese royal family. Now he scours its charred interior for anything that survived the blaze.

“We were used to working in air conditioning, now we are on a building site,” he said, stamping dusty boots as he took a break outside its sealed-off perimeter on a recent morning. The museum’s outer walls are still standing but three of its interior floors collapsed.

“We don’t work in the field. The field came here,” he said.

The fire in September was an unthinkable tragedy for academics like Bastos, many of whom started out at the museum as interns and watched helplessly as irreplaceable archives went up in smoke. Yet some have found new meaning in the rescue work, celebrating each of the 1,500 finds made so far – including indigenous bowls, arrowheads and an axe – no matter how blackened or broken. They hope a new National Museum can emerge from its ashes.