First sadness, then anger as Brazil mourns loss of its Museu Nacional to a devastating fire

An incalculable loss for science

Lesson #
September 13, 2018

Brazil's National Museum and most of its 20 million artefacts were destroyed by a devastating fire this month. The collection held priceless artifacts from across human history, including fossils, artwork, and sound recordings. Among the priceless losses were a 12,000-year-old skeleton, the oldest human remains ever found in the Americas. Learn the English phrase "exempt from."


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Transcript

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An incalculable loss for science: Brazil’s national museum is destroyed by fire

Brazil’s National Museum went up in flames on Sunday night, September 3; by the next morning, about 90 percent of the museum’s 20 million specimens was destroyed. Museum workers, in tears, began picking through the ashes to see what could be saved.

Hi everyone, it’s Jeff and you are listening to Plain English—a podcast in English about current events for all of you out there who are learning the English language. Welcome back to our twice-weekly podcast. Today is Thursday, September 13, 2018 and this is episode 85. A transcript of today’s program can be found at PlainEnglish.com/85. If you haven’t seen the interactive transcripts, make sure to check them out, especially if you speak one of our six supported languages. They are Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, French, and Chinese.

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Brazil’s National Museum destroyed by fire

It was an almost unthinkable tragedy: Brazil’s National Museum, one of the largest and most important museums in Latin America, was destroyed by fire and about 90 percent of its invaluable collection was totally destroyed.

Of all the hardships that Brazil has suffered over the last few years—violence in large cities, a paralyzing corruption scandal, the impeachment of a president and her removal from office, the jailing of an ex-president, a struggling economy—this was a kind of hardship that you almost couldn’t imagine or predict. It struck a symbol of national pride, and the sense of loss was piled on top of the heartache and frustration that Brazilians have suffered in so many other parts of public life. Science and the arts, museums, are generally exempt from many of society’s troubles; they tend to be a neutral ground, free of the conflict that can pop up in other parts of society.

The National Museum held a priceless collection of over 20 million artifacts, including some of the most important scientific artifacts in Latin America. It held the equivalent of the British museum twice over. Even the building itself was historically significant: it is where Brazil’s independence decree from Portugal was officially signed in 1822; prior to that, it had been home to emperors and a king. It is now a smoldering ruin; heartbroken museum workers and preservationists are now picking through the ashes to see what, if anything, can be saved.

The museum held an astonishing amount of treasure that told the story of human life over thousands of years. One of its most remarkable holdings was Luzia, a 12,000-year-old skeleton, the oldest human skeleton ever discovered in the Americas. The museum held art and ceramics from indigenous Brazilian cultures and contained information about tribes and cultures that are either endangered or extinct. Audio recordings of languages that are no longer spoken were destroyed; the sounds of those people are now lost to humanity forever. Artifacts from around South America, including weapons, statues, and urns were lost, as was a 3,500-yeard-old mummy from Chile.

The museum also held a rich collection of fossils—bones from old species that have turned to stone. Fossils are the best way we have of imagining the animals, including dinosaurs, that once roamed the earth. There was a 44-foot-long dinosaur called Maxakalisaourus. The museum held the world’s best collection of pterosaurs, which were flying reptiles that lived in the age of dinosaurs. One scientist said there is no collection of similar artifacts comparable to what was in Brazil’s National Museum.

Many of the artifacts that were lost were called holotypes—meaning they were the best and most important examples of their kind in the world. That made the museum important not just to visitors but also to scientists and researchers. Because there are so few examples of these specimens in the world, many researchers rely on drawings and descriptions in literature. But the ability to visit and view examples with their own eyes has been an important component of scientific research.

Museum employees and scientists now begin the difficult work of picking through the wreckage and trying to restore any items that may have survived the blaze. They started the day after the fire, Monday, September 4, dressed in black, many of them in tears as they saw their passion and years of their work and research reduced to ashes. Hundreds of residents came out on the overcast day to mourn the loss of the museum and to protest the neglect that led to the fire.

One researcher said that this is “a moment of intense pain” for Brazil. He said, “We can only hope to recover our history from the ashes. Now, we cry and get to work.”

There is one notable item that survived the fire. The Bendengó meteorite is an 11,600-pound rock that fell from space thousands of years ago and was discovered in the state of Bahia in the year 1784. It took a hundred years to transport the rock—which weighs as much as three cars—to the museum. Pictures show that the meteorite appears unaffected even amid the wreckage all around it. Thousands of years ago, the rock survived the heat of speeding through the Earth’s atmosphere and the impact on hitting the ground; it survived this fire too.

Alexander Kellner, the museum’s director, pointed to Bendengó and said, “It’s there, Bendengó. As it resisted, we too shall resist.”

On Monday’s episode, we’ll talk about how this tragedy was preventable, and how museums around the world are trying to digitize their collections in case tragedy strikes elsewhere.


So much history, so much knowledge about the world we live in, wiped out in just a single night. What a terrible tragedy.

As you know, JR and I like hearing from listeners, and you can get in touch with us via our Facebook and Twitter accounts. We are PlainEnglishPod on both those web sites. We wanted to say hi to a couple of listeners this week. First, José, a painter from Buenos Aires, Argentina, listens while he’s on the bus. That’s a good way to pass the time. Also Sara from Mexico, who said she likes topics on anthropology, like the man from the uncontacted tribe in Brazil. That was back in episode 74. If you didn’t hear that one, just go back to PlainEnglish.com/74 to check it out.

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How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

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Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

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The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

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Can I see a sample?

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How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

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Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

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Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

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Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

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How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

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The transcripts of Plain English lessons are available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation. Turkish translations are available starting at Lesson 278.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

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The transcript of Plain English lessons are available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation. Polish translations are available starting at Lesson 278.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

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