In September 2018, Brazil’s Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro was struck by a terrible fire that seriously damaged its collection, one of the largest in the world about natural history. And yet, thanks to Google, the pieces lost are now able to live a second life online.
Google’s Arts & Culture process had begun the digitization process of the Museu Nacional in 2016, virtualizing both the museum’s halls and its collection so that users from everywhere around the world could enjoy it. Now, this process has taken on a double significance— it’s no longer just a way for people to access culture, but also a medium to remember those pieces that were lost. Last year’s fire destroyed more than 20 million of them, including dinosaur bones, indigenous artefacts, and the oldest human skeleton ever found in the Americas, nicknamed Luzia.
“Advances in technology have not only introduced new forms of art but help us preserve the world’s most precious heritage,” wrote Google Arts & Culture’s program manager, Chance Coughenour, in a blog post explaining the virtualization process. “Even though images cannot replace what has been lost, they offer us a way to remember”. The work made by the Arts & Culture team is now online, so you can once again step into the museum through immersive, 360-degree Street View and learn about the Museu Nacional’s collection.
It’s also a good way to tide you over until the Museu Nacional’s restoration is complete— the process is now underway and many artefacts have been recovered from the areas destroyed by fire. Like the museum’s director, Alexander Kellner, said in an open letter: “it is important to stress that the National Museum has not lost its ability to generate knowledge”.