The National Museum had a collection of approximately 70 thousand items related to Earth sciences, subdivided into nuclei of paleontology, mineralogy, petrology and meteorology, composed of objects from different locations in Brazil and the world. Formed since the end of the 18th century, it was one of the largest and most diverse Brazilian geological collections, characterized by its high scientific, historical and artistic value, declared a national heritage and developed largely with the help of some of the most renowned scientists and researchers the country’s geology and paleontology.
Among the collaborators of the museum’s scientific activities, carried out systematically since 1842, were Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege (responsible for the first geological exploration of a scientific nature in Brazil), Claude-Henri Gorceix (founder of the School of Minas de Ouro Preto), Orville Derby(pioneer of Brazilian geology), Alberto Betim Paes Leme (pioneer in meteorite research in Brazil) and Ney Vidal (one of the pioneers in the collection of vertebrate fossil specimens in Northeast Brazil), among others. Also present in the collection were objects from the first major scientific expeditions carried out in Brazilian territory, organized or integrated by collaborators of the museum, namely the Thayer Expedition (led by Louis Agassiz) and the Morgan Expeditions (organized by Charles Frederick Hartt). Finally, the museum kept the collection collected byGeological Commission of the Empire, created in 1875 and directed by Charles Frederick Hartt, composed mainly of items from the North and Northeast regions of Brazil.
The National Museum holds the largest collection of meteorites in Brazil, with 62 pieces. Meteorites are celestial bodies from the interstellar medium or the solar system itself (asteroids, comets, fragments of planets and disintegrated natural satellites) that collide with the Earth’s surface. They are divided into three main groups: aerolites (rocky), siderites (metallic) and siderolites (mixed). The museum’s collection housed specimens from these three groups, including pieces of great relevance to the study of meteorology. The following stand out:
The Bendegó Meteorite, the largest ever found in Brazil and one of the largest in the world. It is a siderite, consisting of a compact mass of iron and nickel, weighing 5.36 tons and measuring more than two meters in length. It was discovered in 1784 by Domingos da Motta Botelho, on a farm outside the city of Monte Santo, in the hinterland of Bahia. A first attempt to move him to Salvadorit failed, when the wooden cart that carried it went out of control and the meteorite fell into the Bendegó stream, remaining there for over 100 years. Dom Pedro II would later order the removal of the meteorite for Rio de Janeiro. It has been in the National Museum since 1888.
The Santa Luzia meteorite, the second largest found in the country. It is also a siderite, composed mainly of iron and nickel, with 1.36 meters in length and a mass of 1.9 tons. It was found in Santa Luzia de Goiás (now Luziânia) in 1922 and donated by this municipality to the museum.
The meteorite Angra dos Reis, whose fall was spotted in Ilha Grande Bay, in January 1869, by Joaquim Carlos Travassos and two of his slaves, responsible for collecting two fragments, one of which was donated to the museum. The meteorite gave its name to a new group of achondritic aerolites – the angritos, a group of rocks that are among the oldest in the Solar System.
The Patos de Minas meteorite, a 200 kg iron siderite, discovered in 1925, in the Córrego do Areado, in Patos de Minas, Minas Gerais.
The Pará de Minas meteorite, found in 1934, also in Minas Gerais, on the Palmital farm, near the city of Pará de Minas. Siderite composed of iron and nickel with a mass of 112 kg.
The collection included dozens of smaller meteorites and fragments of meteorites with samples scattered over several collections, including specimens exhibiting the structure of Widmanstätten (patterns formed by iron and nickel crystals within octahedrite siderites). The following stand out: Avanhandava (aerolite, fall in São Paulo in 1952), Campos Sales (aerolite, fall in Ceará in 1991), Heritage (aerolite, fall in Minas Gerais in 1950), Pirapora (siderite discovered in Minas Gerais on an unknown date), Santa Catarina (nickel-rich anomalous siderite discovered in Santa Catarinain 1875) and São João Nepomuceno (15 kg siderite found in Minas Gerais on an unknown date, quite rare because it contains silicates, rich in silica, similar only to the Steinbach Meteorite). Among the foreign specimens, the highlights are the Brenham meteorites (siderolite found in 1882 in Kansas, United States), Carlton (siderite found in Texas, United States, in 1887), Glen Rose (siderite found in Texas in 1937), Henbury (siderite found in the MacDonnell mountain range in Australia in 1922) and Krasnojarsk (found in Siberia,Russia, in 1749, the first specimen of siderolite palasite identified).
Mineralogy and petrology
The collection of minerals and rocks of the National Museum was one of the oldest segments of its collection, having been collected since the end of the 18th century. It was characterized by its didactic approach, reflecting the 19th century conception of public collections of mineralogy as spaces for the dissemination of basic knowledge, aiming to make available to teachers of natural sciences practical elements for complementary theoretical activities. Its original nucleus corresponded to the Werner Collection – a batch of 3,326 mineralogical specimens classified by Abraham Gottlob Werner, the founder of modern mineralogy and geognosy, cataloged and published between 1791 and 1793. The collection consisted of samples of almost all mineral species hitherto known and had great historical value, as it was the first classified modern mineralogical collection.
It was acquired in Germany from Carl Eugenius Pabst von Ohain (employee of the Academia de Minas de Freiberg), by the Kingdom of Portugal, probably in 1805. The acquisition, ordered by Antônio de Araújo Azevedo, then Minister of Foreign Affairs and War, was aimed at to expand the collection of the Royal Museum of Natural History of Lisbon. However, on the occasion of thetransfer of the Portuguese court to Rio de Janeiro in 1808, the Werner Collection was brought to Brazil, initially comprising the collection of the Royal Military Academy, until being incorporated into the National Museum in 1818.
Other important mineralogical collections were incorporated into the museum’s collection in the early 19th century, such as the valuable private collection by José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva, consisting of items collected during his studies in the field of mineralogy carried out in Europe in the 1790s, samples of minerals from Casa dos Pássaros and specimens transferred from the collections of the imperial family. The various expeditions organized by the museum throughout the second half of the 19th century and the 20th century resulted in the addition of several other pieces. The vast set of quartz specimens, of the colorless (rock crystal) and colored varieties (amethyst, rose quartz andhematoid quartz), the mica group minerals (muscovite, biotite and lepidolite), a set of California crystals and pieces of historical importance – such as a specimen of silicified echinoid (identified as chalcedony), probably from the collection of the Empress Leopoldine, an element prominent in the museum’s first exhibitions, and a sample of quartz from Minas Gerais, donated by President Getúlio Vargas to the museum in 1940.
The rock collection was composed of sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous specimens. Noteworthy were the items collected during the first expedition of geologists and paleontologists from the National Museum to Antarctica, between January and February 2007, such as specimens of sedimentary rocks from the Cretaceous (from the Whiskey Bay Formation) and carbonate concretions in sandstone (from the Formation Santa Marta), in addition to rare pieces such as samples of pisolitic limestone from the São Jose de Itaboraí Basin, one of the most important fossiliferous deposits of the Paleocenefrom Brazil, whose limestone reserves were explored by the cement industry until depletion, and historical specimens, such as a sample of oil from Poço do Lobato, the first well to produce oil in Brazil, drilled in Bahia in 1939.
Calcareous concretions occur in round shapes and are found in layers of clay. They are segmented in compartments by contraction fissures filled with calcite, constituting a septarium. The pink coloration is given due to the presence of iron oxide. This sample was collected in 1870 by Antonio Carlos Melo, scientist of the National Museum, and comes from the region between the municipalities of São Gabriel and Alegrete, Rio Grande do Sul.
Sedimentary gap in Antarctica
Sedimentary rock of the Cretaceous period — Whisky Bay Formation, Grupo Gustav, Larson Basin — collected at the Bibby Point beach, in the North of the James Ross Island, during the first expedition of a team of geologists a paleontologists from the National Museum in Antarctica, in January and February of 2007.
Rhombohedral quartz crystal, with 3 cm of width by 8 cm of height, under crystal mass of green tourmaline, with 24 cm of width by 4 cm of height.
Carbonate concretion in Antarctica
Carbonate concretion in fine sandstone with crossed laminations, of the Cretaceous period — Lachman Craigs Member, Santa Marta Formation, Larsen Basin —, collected in Col. Crame, North of the James Ross Island, during the first expedition of a team of geologists and paleontologists of the National Museum in Antarctica, in January and February of 2007.
Sample of Lobato petroleum
Flask with 40 cm of length.
Glass with petroleum sample of the Lobato Well, perforated in 1939 in Bahia, known as the first well to produce petroleum in Brazil. Although it had been classified in the time of the perforation as “sub-commercial,” the petroleum that comes from this well incentivated the continuation of the petroleum research in the region of the Recôncavo Baiano.
Various cubic Galena crystals, of various sizes, grown on fine calcareous rock with 12 cm of length by 8 cm of width. “Dog tooth” calcite crystals, with 4 cm of width and length, encrusted on a Galena crystal with 5 cm of length and width. Collected in California, in the United States of America.
Sample of Pisolitic Limestone
The São José de Itaboraí Basin, located in the municipality of Itaboraí, Rio de Janeiro, is one of the smallest Brazilian sedimentary basins and one of the most important fossil sites of Paleocene age in Brazil and in the world. It was discovered in 1928 and had its limestone explored by the cement industry until depletion. The pisolitic limestone, the most notable lithology of the basin, can no longer be found.
Constituted of a compact iron and nickel mass, it is the largest Brazilian meteorite and one of the largest in the world. It was found in 1784 by a boy, Domingos da Motta Botelho, who shepherded cattle in a farm near the city of Monte Santo, in the hinterland of Bahia. The first attempt of transporting the extremely heavy block to the capital failed when the wooden wagon that carried it lost control and fell into the Bendegó stream. Since 1888, it had been on display at the National Museum thanks to the efforts of Emperor D. Pedro II, who, once became aware of its existence and scientific importance, provided its removal to to Rio de Janeiro.
Angra dos Reis Meteorite
Its fall, in January of 1869, in front of the Bonfim church, at Praia Grande, in Angra dos Reis, Rio de Janeiro, was witnessed by Joaquim Carlos Travassos and two of his slaves. These last ones recuperated two fragments out of approximately 2 meters of depth, one of which was donated to the National Museum. The Angra dos Reis meteorite gave name to a new group of meteorites, the Angrites, considered the oldest rock in the solar system.
Pará de Minas Meteorite
The sample shows the Widmanstätten pattern, typical of metallic meteorites when they are attacked by acid. This structure is formed as consequence of a very slow cooling — approximately1º C per each 1 million years — in the nucleus of a planetary body probably similar to the Earth’s.
National Museum in Rio de Janeiro
The National Museum, linked to the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), is the oldest scientific institution in Brazil that, until September 2018, figured as one of the largest museums of natural history and anthropology in the Americas. It is located inside the Quinta da Boa Vista park, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, being installed in the São Cristóvão Palace.
The Museu Nacional/UFRJ is part of the Ministry of Education. It is the oldest scientific institution in Brazil and the biggest museum of natural history and anthropology in Latin America. Founded by D. João VI in June 6th, 1818, and initially based in Campo de Sant’Anna, it served the country to promote the cultural and economic development of the country.
Originally named Museu Real, it was incorporated to the Universidade do Brasil in 1946. Currently the Museum is part of the academic structure of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. The Museum located at Paço de São Cristóvão from 1892 — residency of the Brazilian Imperial Family until 1889 — gave to it a distinguished character if compared to other institutions of the area. It is the same place where the royal family lived for so many years (where D. Pedro II was born and the First Republican Constitutional Assembly happened), and today is the interface between memory and scientific production.
The National Museum housed a vast collection with more than 20 million items, encompassing some of the most relevant records of Brazilian memory in the field of natural and anthropological sciences, as well as wide and diverse sets of items from different regions of the planet, or produced by ancient peoples and civilizations. Formed over more than two centuries through collections, excavations, exchanges, acquisitions and donations, the collection was subdivided into collections of geology, paleontology, botany, zoology, biological anthropology (including the remnants of Luzia’s skeleton in this nucleus)., the oldest human fossil in the Americas),archeologyandethnology. It was the main basis for the research carried out by the academic departments of the museum – which develops activities in all regions of the country and in other parts of the world, including theAntarctic continent. It has one of the largestlibrariesspecializing in natural sciences in Brazil, with more than 470,000 volumes and 2,400 rare works.