This past September, the world lost a treasure trove of natural and cultural history when the National Museum of Brazil burned to the ground. Exhibits ranging in category from Ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman artifacts, to art from indigenous tribes, collections of now-extinct animal and plant life, to the oldest known human fossil from the region, were housed in the 200-year-old museum. It was a near loss, with close to 93% of the collection destroyed. The financial and scientific loss has been immeasurable.

The building that housed the collection had fallen into disrepair over recent years due to budget cutbacks from the national government. Museum employees had been warning for some time that the old structure would be vulnerable to fire. They presented evidence of corner-cutting, with photos of exposed wires and flammable material being used to repair the roof. However, their concerns were not addressed and the building ultimately caught fire on Sept 2. It is still not definitively known what caused the fire.

For fans of the museum and those that will never know the exhibits housed there, Google gave the world an early Christmas present. On Dec 18, they launched a virtual version of the museum on their Museum View service which is based on the same tech as Google Street View. Google had partnered with the museum to begin this project in 2016. By using the point and click interface on the site, you can move from room to room in the museum to view many of the exhibits that are now lost. The virtual museum also includes online-only exhibits that delve deeper into such topics as the culture of the indigenous people of Brazil. In addition, you can view many of the individual exhibits up close in a way that you never would have been able to in person.

Google is also providing updates on the restoration of the museum and the exhibits that did survive the fire.

To take your own virtual tour of the National Museum of Brazil, visit artsandculture.google.com.

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