Field of Science

Historic Mineral Collection Destroyed in Brazil's National Museum Fire

German mineralogist Abraham Gottlob Werner was born in 1749 in Wehrau, at the time a city in the Prussian kingdom.
Werner was educated at Freiberg and Leipzig, where he studied law and mining. In 1775 he was appointed as inspector and teacher of mining and mineralogy at the small, but influential, Freiberg Mining Academy in Saxony. Here he catalogized the collection by mining inspector Carl Eugenius Pabst von Ohain (1718-1784) consisting of 7,500 mineral and rock samples. The collection was also used to teach mineralogy and petrology at the
academy. After the death of Ohain in 1785 the collection was sold to the Portuguese statesman, author and amateur botanist António de Araújo e Azevedo, 1. conde da Barca. In 1807 the mineralogical samples were shipped to Rio de Janeiro, where they were incorporated in the collections of the newly founded National Museum of Brazil. Werner started a new collection, still hosted today at the University of Freiberg. In 1787, based on the studied collections, he published “Kurze Klassifikation und Beschreibung der verschiedenen Gesteinsarten” (Short classification and description of the various rock types), a classification guide using - unusual at a time when most rocks were classified based on the complex rock-chemistry - easily recognizable features (like color, shape, even odor) to identify minerals and rocks. Werner's works play a very important role in the history of geology and mineralogy. He named many common and less common minerals, like Kyanite and Vesuvianite in his writings. His books on minerals and rocks-identification influenced an entire generation of German geologists, including Alexander von Humboldt. Charles Darwin used "Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours" published in 1814 and based in part on A.G. Werner's work, to describe his rock and mineral samples collected during the famous voyage of the Beagle.

Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the National Museum just a few days ago. The extent of the fire's damage won't be fully known until salvage efforts are completed, but it is feared that also Ohain's mineral collection is lost.

After an enormous fire destroyed the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro on Sept. 2, 2018, the Bendegó meteorite was one of the few artifacts left relatively intact. The meteorite is the largest space rock ever discovered in Brazil. 

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