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Take My Fossils!

Brazil’s National Museum has received a generous gift of more than 1,100 fossils.
A man in a hardhat holds a microphone and points to a pterosaur skull fossil that is next to a reconstructed pterosaur as a group in hardhats looks on.
Diogo Vasconcellos/National Museum of Brazil
Burkhard Pohl (far left) watches as fossil experts discuss the fossils he donated to Brazil’s National Museum.

In 2018, a huge fire burned through Brazil’s National Museum, destroying most of its collection of 20 million items. But in May 2024, as the museum prepared to reopen, it received a generous donation of 1,104 fossils.

The items that were lost in the fire were pieces of the past that can never be recovered. There were artifacts from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome; a dinosaur fossil named Dinoprata; and objects that were used by Brazil’s Indigenous (native) population hundreds of years ago.

Since then, several museums around the world have donated items to the National Museum. Last year, the Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen, Denmark, announced it would repatriate (send back) a Tupinambá feather cloak that it has had since the 1600s. The cloak, made and worn by Indigenous Brazilian people called the Tupinambá, was taken from Brazil to Europe hundreds of years ago.

It will take a long time for Brazil’s museum to rebuild a collection anywhere near the size of what it once had. But the recently donated fossils will make a big difference. They include a plant called Brachyphyllum, a pterosaur (a cousin of a dinosaur) called Tupandactylus imperator, and Tetrapodophis, which dates back about 120 million years and may be the oldest known snake fossil. There are also several turtle and insect fossils. All the fossils were originally found in Brazil. The gift comes from Burkhard Pohl, who owns one of the biggest fossil collections in the world. 

“We felt it was the right thing to do to help rebuild a comprehensive collection of Brazilian fossils,” Pohl told The Art Newspaper. “We hope that this initiative will inspire other collectors to follow suit and [donate].

Fossil of a long, thin animal that appears to be legless.
Handerson Oliveira/National Museum of Brazil

Burkhard Pohl donated what may be the world’s oldest known snake fossil.

Some of the newly donated fossils have never been examined very closely, so the museum will study them in the hopes of learning more about the prehistoric past. The others will be put on display for visitors.

The museum hopes to have about 10,000 objects to display by the time it reopens in April 2026.

Click through the slideshow for more fossils!

Diogo Vasconcellos/National Museum of Brazil, Handerson Oliveira/National Museum of Brazil, Handerson Oliveira/National Museum of Brazil, Handerson Oliveira/National Museum of Brazil

NEWS EXTRA

Funniest Photo!

A dog with long fur and black ears has its head halfway through a cat door.
© Sarah Haskell/Comedy Pets, © Betelgejze/Dreamstime.com

Two weeks ago, we reported on the finalists for the 2024 Comedy Pet Photography Awards, an annual contest to find the world’s funniest pet photo. 

We’re happy to announce that the winning photo is Not Just for Cats, taken by Sarah Haskell of the United Kingdom. The photo, shown above, features Haskell’s dog, Hector, trying to squeeze through a cat door.

Hector saw the cat do it…so thought he would give it a try,” Haskell said of her photo. “This is about as far as he got before reversing out the way he came. I can imagine him thinking, ‘But the cat made it look so easy.’ Not so for Hector!” 

Click here to read more about this critter contest!

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Did You Know?

Two people examine a dinosaur skull at a dig site while underground dinosaur fossils tell them to keep digging because they are waiting.

 © Moloko88, Rudzhan Nagiev/Dreamstime.com; Illustration composite Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Scientists are still finding unexpected fossils all around the world. A new dinosaur species is discovered about once every two weeks!

Check Me Out!

A prehistoric pterosaur with a large bony structure on its head is in flight.

© Sergey Krasovskiy—Stocktrek Images/Getty Images

The creature in the image may look like a Pixar character, but it’s actually what scientists believe the pterosaur Tupandactylus imperator looked like. Tupandactylus imperator lived about 113 million years ago, long before humans appeared. But fossils, like the one that was recently donated to Brazil’s National Museum, confirm its unusual head shape. And recent studies suggest that Tupandactylus imperator had colorful feathers, somewhat like a bird.

The Magic of Museums

Scenes from different art, history, and science museums flash on and off the screen.

© Bo Li, Linnaea Mallette, R. Gino Santa Maria—Shutterfree, Llc, Anastassiya Bornstein/Dreamstime.com; © Patrick, Eric BVD/stock.adobe.com; © Carl Court, EThamPhoto—The Image Bank/Getty Images; © James Kirkikis, gob_cu/Shutterstock.com; Bob Nichols/U.S. Department of Agriculture; Pete Souza—Official White House Photo; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Whether you’re interested in art, science, history, or even toys, there’s a museum for you! People visit museums to learn and see collections of natural or human made objects. (Yes, there’s a museum of toys! It’s in New York.) 

You can learn more about museums at Britannica.

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Word of the Day

artifact

Part of speech:

noun

Definition:

: a simple object (such as a tool or weapon) that was made by people in the past

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