Five months after fire gutted Brazil’s 200-year-old National Museum, the site that once held some of the nation’s greatest treasures remains a ruin of scorched walls, twisted metal and piles of ash.
Museum director Alexander Kellner said Tuesday that plans to rebuild the structure have just gotten underway, starting with a contract to restore the facade. Financial help is being provided by the Brazilian government as well as U.N. cultural agency, which is helping with restoration efforts and building repairs.
“We are very excited about the great prospect of reconstruction,” Kellner said outside the museum.
But the scale of the task was evident as authorities gave journalists a tour through the ruins.
Teams of volunteers are still using large sieves to sort through ash and other debris to hunt for fragments that might have survived the Sept. 2 blaze, working in summer heat with the roof burned away to leave just the sky.
Researchers said in December that they had recovered more than 1,500 surviving pieces, including indigenous arrows, a Peruvian vase and a pre-Colombian funeral urn.
In October, researchers recovered skull fragments and a part of the femur belonging to “Luzia,” the name that scientists gave to a woman who lived 11,500 years ago.
But those are just a tiny fraction of the more than 20 million pieces, including irreplaceable historical documents, that were in the museum when the fire ravaged the building. A large meteorite sits almost intact in the otherwise bare lobby.