The National Museum had one of the most significant paleontological collections in Latin America, totaling about 56 thousand specimens and 18,900 records, divided into paleobotany, paleoinvertebrate and paleovertebrate nuclei. It consisted mainly of fossils of plants and animals, from Brazil and other countries, as well as reconstructions, replicas, models and molds. The collection stood out for the presence of nuclei of recognized scientific and historical value, collected in remote times, contemporary to the emergence of paleontology itself.
The first fossils sent to the institution were excavated in Uruguay in 1826, by the Prussian naturalist Friedrich Sellow. In the following decades, the collaboration of foreign naturalists would be fundamental for the expansion of the paleontological collection (especially the Italian Giovanni Michelotti, between 1836 and 1837), as well as the acquisitions made by Frederico Leopoldo César Burlamaque, then director-general of the museum, responsible for gathering sets of fossils of ichthyosaurs from the Jurassic of England and mammals from Northeast Brazil. In the last third of the 19th century, the collection was greatly expanded thanks to expeditions carried out by the Geological Commission of the Empire, led by Charles Frederick Hartt and integrated by Orville Derby. In the 20th century, already with the provision of local professionals and specialized paleontologists, the institution was able to expand the studies, investigations and expeditions that would help to consolidate the encyclopedic nature of its paleontological collection.
The paleobotany nucleus had more than four thousand cataloged specimens, representative of the fossil flora of Brazil and other parts of the world and dated from all geological periods. It was mostly composed of vegetables from the Paleozoic Era, especially fossils of Neopaleozoic age, from the basins of the Paraná and Parnaíba rivers and the Chapada do Araripe, such as leaves, fruits, seeds, stems and trunks. Specimens of the Glossopteris (Glossopteridales) flora predominated and, to a lesser extent, Lepidodendrales, Lycopodiales, Equisetales, Pteridophyta, Ginkgophyta, Cycadophyta, Coniferophyta and Anthophyta. There were abundant specimens notable for both their historical importance – namely a sample of the first fossil plant collected in the country, a trunk of the Psaronius brasiliensis species, from the Permian period, described in Paris by the botanist Adolphe Brongniart in 1872 – and by the scientific value – such as specimens of dicotyledonous leaves from Cenozoic sedimentsfrom Bahia, distinguished by the excellent state of conservation, and the set of plant fossils collected by the museum staff in Antarctica.
The paleoinvertebrate nucleus was the most voluminous in the palentological collection, totaling around ten thousand records and 46 thousand copies, coming from Brazil and, to a lesser extent, from North America and Europe. It consisted primarily by fossil arthropods (mosquitoes, ephemeropteran, dragonfly, bees, bugs, beetles, spiders, scorpions, crabs, etc.) Brachiopods (copies Mucrospirifer pedroanus, first fossils period Devoniancollected and studied in Brazil, in the 1870s), echinoderms (noting the vast set of hedgehog species) and mollusks. Among the pieces of foreign origin, the collection of fossils from the Paris Basin stood out, a set of fossilized shells of marine bivalves from the Eocene, offered to Dom Pedro II in 1872, on the occasion of his first visit to France. The collection was considered rare due to the destruction of the fossiliferous deposits around Paris over the past two centuries.
The paleovertebrate nucleus housed around ten thousand specimens and seven thousand records, with the fossil fauna of the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras collected in sedimentary basins in Brazil standing out in terms of volume. It was notable for the presence of items of great scientific relevance, especially fossil records with preservation of soft parts. It mainly covered fossil specimens of reptiles, fish, mammals and birds. Among the sets in the collection, the following stand out:
Fish fossils, mostly dated from the Cretaceous and from the Crato and Romualdo formations, in the Araripe Basin, Ceará, represented in the collection by specimens such as the Calamopleurus audax (which could reach up to two meters in length), the Cladocyclus gardneri (measuring more than one meter long), the Araripichthys castilhoi (highlighted by the rounded shape of the body), in addition to rays (Iansan beurleni), primitive sharks (Tribodus limae) and celacantids (Axelrodichthys araripensis);
A set of exceptionally preserved turtle fossils, most of which date from the Cretaceous – Araripemys barretoi (the oldest known Brazilian tortoise, from Chapada do Araripe), Cearachelys placidoi (the only known species in the Bothremydidae family in Brazil and the oldest record for this group in the world, also from Chapada do Araripe), Bauruemys elegans (freshwater turtle, collected in the Bauru Basin, in São Paulo), etc. – in addition to other fossilized terrestrial and aquatic reptiles – namely the complete skeleton of a Stereosternum (Permian aquatic lizard)belonging to the oldest group of known amiota with adaptations to life in the water, also from São Paulo) and a fossilized specimen of Squamata (collected from the paleontological sites of Lago Crato, Ceará);
The collection of fossil records of pterosaurs, mostly from Chapada do Araripe and dated from the Cretaceous, ranging from fragments to complete and assembled skeletons, as well as reconstructions based on the original fossils – large specimens such as the Tropeognathus mesembrinus (one of the largest pterosaurs that inhabited Gondwana, with an eight meter wide opening), the Cearadáctilo (with an average wingspan of 5.50 meters), the Anhanguera (wingspan of 4.60 meters) and the Tupandactylus imperator (average wingspan of 2.50 meters) meters) – as well as fossil records of foreign pterosaurs, with specimens from China, such as Nurhachius ignaciobritoi (Cretaceous, Chaoyang Formation) and Jeholopterus ningchengensis (Jurassic, Tiaojishan Formation);
The collection of fossils and reconstructions of dinosaur skeletons, composed mainly of specimens from the Northeast, Southeast and South regions of Brazil – such as Maxakalisaurus topai (titanosaur of thirteen meters long and nine tons in weight, dated from the Upper Cretaceous and collected from the Diamantina Formation in Minas Gerais, represented in the collection by the original fossils and the replica of its skeleton, the first reconstruction of a large dinosaur skeleton carried out in Brazil), the Irritator, or Angaturama limai (spinosaurusthe Lower Cretaceous with 7.5 meters in length and weight of one ton, from Chapada do Araripe, present in the collection with original fossils and replica of the skeleton), and the Santanaraptor (fossil record of theropod with 1.6 meters in length, dated from the Lower Cretaceous and collected at Chapada do Araripe, of exceptional importance for the preservation of soft tissues, such as muscles and blood vessels). Among items of foreign origin, a skull of Lambeosaurus (Upper Cretaceous, from the Judith River Formation, Canada) and a replica of the skull of the tyrannosaurus “Stan” (Tyrannosaurus rex, Upper Cretaceous, from the Hell Creek Formation, South Dakota, United States);
Fossils of therapsids, distinguishing the complete skeleton of a Dinodontosaurus, a 3.5 meter long dicinodon that lived between the Permian and Triassic periods, from the Santa Maria Formation, in Rio Grande do Sul.
The set of specimens of the extinct Pleistocene Brazilian mega-fauna, mainly mammals, such as the complete skeletons of giant sloths (Eremotherium laurillardi, from Jacobina, in Bahia, and Glossotherium robustum, collected in Rio Grande do Sul) and a tiger- saber tooth (Smilodon);
Fossils of birds, highlighting the complete skeleton of a Paraphysornis brasiliensis, a giant prehistoric bird that lived in Brazil during the Pliocene, with an average height of 2.40 meters.
Complementing the collection were the artistic reconstructions of prehistoric animals in life, including pterosaurs (Thalassodromeus sethi, Tupandactylus imperator) and dinosaurs (Irritator, Unaysaurus tolentinoi), a model of an embryo with the egg of a Tyrannosaurus rex, made based on discoveries in China of eggs attributed to large carnivorous dinosaurs and panels with reproductions of organisms that inhabited the sea in the Devonian Period, representing fossil outcrops and living beings, among other items of a didactic nature.
From the rich collection of Paleontology exhibitions, only part of it is being represented here. Among other representations of the prehistoric fauna, we illustrate below the skeletons of the giant sloths and of the saber-toothed tiger. There is also a reconstruction of live features of a Brazilian dinosaur, a reproduction of organisms of the Devonian ocean (outcrops with fossils and live beings) and the original skeleton of a Dicynodont.
Saber-Toothed Tiger And Giant Sloths
Eremotherium Spillmann, 1948 Glossotherium Owen, 1840. Smilodon Lund, 1842. Replicas and original pieces of skeletons representative of the Brazilian Pleistocene setting, around 1.8 million years ago. The giant sloths Eremotherium and Glossotherium, as well as the saber-toothed tiger Smilodon, represented what is known as an extinct megafauna. Curiously, the assembly of the exemplar determined as Eremotherium was realized in the beginning of the 20th Century, when the only species of giant sloths believed to exist on Brazilian territory were the Megatherium Americanum. For this reason, this exemplar is considered a composite skeleton, made up of original material from various individuals that are attributed to the Eremotherium genus, and replicated material attributed to the Megatherium genus.
Kellner, Campos, Azevedo, Trotta, Henriques
Skeleton of the bone constitution of a titanosaur discovered in the municipality of Prata, Minas Gerais. The rocks in this location belong to the Adamantina Formation (Bauru Group) and date back to the Upper Cretaceous epoch – 99.6 to 65.5 millions of years. This exemplar presents an estimated length of 13 meters and is representative of the sauropods, herbivore dinosaurs that have long necks and small heads. It was the first Brazilian large-sized dinosaur set up for display in the country.
Unaysaurus (Live Reconstitution)
Unaysaurus tolentinoi. Leal, Azevedo
Reconstitution of the fossil found in sediments of the Caturrita Formation, in the district of Água Negra, South of the municipality of São Martinha da Serra, Rio Grande do Sul. The fossil represents the first exemplar found in the country that belongs to the Plateosauridae group — dinosaurs of herbivore habits, voluminous body and small head sustained by a long neck. The Unaysaurus tolentionoi lived in the Triassic period, 251 to 199.6 million years ago.
This exemplar comes from the limestone nodules of the Arrive Basin, Northeast of Brazil, dated the Early Cretaceous — 110 million years. The representatives of this species constitute the oldest records of turtles described in Brazil.
Fossilized scorpion in laminated limestone, originating from the Chapada do Araripe, Ceará. This exemplar is exceptional for its rarity and excellent state of preservation. The Chapada do Araripe is one of the main sites in the world to bury fossils of terrestrial anthropods. Asides from scorpions, fossilized remnants of spiders and insects that lived in the Cretaceous period, over 110 million years ago, also occur there.
The brachiopods are invertebrate animals that were too abundant in the oceans of the Paleozoic era. The specimens were the first fossil from the Devonian period — approximately 390 million years — collected and studied in Brazil. Its site was found in 1870 in the region of Ererê, in Pará, by members of the first Morgan Expedition, lead by Charles Frederick Hartt. Later, they were incorporated into the collections of the Geological Commission of the Brazilian Empire, and today they are part of the National Museum collection.
Paris Basin Fossil Collection
In January of 1872, D. Pedro II was gifted with a collection of fossilized shells of marine bivalve of the Eocene — 45 million years — from the Paris Basin, among which there are exemplars of Cardita imbricata Lamarck. Currently, this collection is considered rare because of the destruction of fossil sites around the city of Paris.
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.