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Crowdsourcing saves digital artifacts in Brazil

Funerary mask
A funerary mask from ancient Egypt is among the artifacts from the now-destroyed Museu documented in digital 3-D models. (UFRJ National Museum via Sketchfab)

One of the greatest tragedies in the museum world transpired over the weekend when fire broke out at Brazil’s Museu Nacional do Rio de Janeiro, touching off a mad scramble to save physical and virtual treasures.

Many of the 200-year-old natural history museum’s 20 million artifacts have been destroyed, including irreplaceable fossils and specimens. One heartbreaking videosweeps around a ruined gallery where only a monumental meteorite survived unscathed.

Museum workers managed to save some artifacts from the blaze, and other items survived because they were on loan to institutions elsewhere. But for many of the pieces, the only hope is to build a digital archive containing videos and photos of the museum’s collection.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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