Luiza Fossil

National Museum, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Burned 2018

The Disappointed Tourist: Luiza Fossil, Ellen Harvey, 2021. Oil and acrylic on Gessoboard, 18 x 24″ (46 x 61 cm). Photograph: Etienne Frossard.

The National Museum of Brazil (Portuguese: Museu Nacional) is Brazil’s oldest scientific institution. Its building was the residence of the Portuguese Royal Family, the Brazilian Imperial Family and the Republican Constituent Assembly in turn before being given to the museum in 1892. The building was listed as a Brazilian National Heritage site in 1938and was largely destroyed by a fire in 2018. One of the museum’s treasures was the “Luiza” fossil, a 11,500-year-old skeleton of a woman, found in 1975 in a cave outside the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte by archeologist Annette Lamgin-Emperaire. She was named Luiza in homage to the Australopithecus fossil Lucy. After the fire, almost 80 percent of Luiza was found in the ashes.

I’m a bit obsessed with human evolution and primates. So, when choosing something I wished to see, the first thing to come to mind was not a building or a monument but one of the oldest examples of human fossilized remains on earth. Thankfully, Luzia was not completely destroyed in the tragic museum fire, but there was severe damage and I was sad to learn I would not see her in person in pristine form when I one day visit Brazil. Diana S.