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20 million historical artifacts destroyed in Brazil National Museum fire

Brazil's oldest human fossil, an expansive ancient Egyptian collection and a 5.5-ton meteorite were housed within Rio's Museu Nacional.

Buda Mendes/Getty

The Museu Nacional in Rio, one of the largest museums in the Americas, was engulfed by flames Sunday evening.

The conflagration began once the museum was closed and Reuters reports that the cause of the blaze is yet to be determined. As of writing, no deaths or injuries have been reported. 

More than 20 million items are stored within the museum's collection, including the 12,000 year old fossilized remains of "Luzia", the oldest human fossil found in Brazil. Another priceless artifact, a 5.5-ton meteorite discovered in Brazil in 1784, was also housed within the museum.

At this stage, it's unclear exactly what has been lost in the fire but Marina Amaral, a Brazilian historical colorist, quoted the museum's director on Twitter explaining that the 200-year-old historical archive was "totally destroyed" and "there is nothing left". The Guardian reported that some of the historical archives are believed to have been stored in another building.

Amaral also posted images and video of the blaze to Twitter late Sunday evening.

The museum was founded in 1818, by King John VI of Portugal. Throughout the 19th Century it had housed the Portuguese royal family and the Brazilian imperial family. It began use as a museum in 1892.

Brazilian President Michael Temer tweeted on Sunday evening that it was "a sad day for all Brazilians". However Luiz Duarte, a vice-director at the museum told Brazil's TV Globo that the organisation had fought "for many years" to secure additional resources and funding for the museum. 

"My feeling is of total dismay and immense anger," Duarte said.  

TV Globo also reported that firefighters could not immediately access water to stymie the blaze, as hydrants nearby had run out of supply.

Update 9:00 p.m.: Adds additional information on blaze

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