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Rock Science: Brazil’s Museum of Earth Sciences

Celebrating its 100th Anniversary, the museum features a huge collection of minerals, rocks and fossils, belonging to the Department of National Mineral Production (DNPM).

By Carmela Burns

This beautiful neoclassical building is home to Brazil’s Museum of Earth Sciences in Rio de Janiero.

Brazil has one of the most vibrant mineral markets in the world, producing over 70 mineral commodities, including metals, industrial and fuel minerals. The country is known for its large mineral reserves, and also for the quality and significance of its beautiful gemstones – aquamarine, tourmaline and citrine – produced in the colonial city of Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais.

Located in Rio de Janiero, on the path to the Sugar Loaf, the Museum of Earth Sciences is home to a permanent showcase of Brazil’s minerals, rocks, fossils and meteorites. The valuable collection includes over 3,000 rocks and minerals, representing over 95% of minerals local to Brazil.

Celebrating its 100thth Anniversary, the Museum’s collection is based on scientific knowledge that spans several generations of geoscientists. It was originally guided by the state Geological Service when it opened in 1907, and since 1969 has been overseen by the Department of National Mineral Production (DNPM).

As it marks 100 years of service, there are plans underway to rejuvenate the Museum, says Director Diogenes de Almeida Campos. The Museum is already a vital resource for school children learning about minerals – their names and properties such as density, color, magnetism, trace and inclusions. One goal of the restructuring will be to modernize the exhibit and make it more accessible and effective as a learning environment for researchers and students, of all ages.

Diogenes de Almeida Campos, Director of the Museum of Earth Sciences in Rio de Janeiro

Diogenes de Almeida Campos, Director of the Museum of Earth
Sciences in Rio de Janeiro with a Quartz crystal specimen from Diamantina, Minas Gerais.  Brazil is famous for the large and exceptional quartz it produces. The largest quartz crystal ever found in Brazil weighed nearly 90,000 lbs.

"In Brazil, there’s movement underway to advance the teaching of geological sciences, introducing it earlier in the primary grades," says Campos. "The Museum has an important role to play in making minerals, and the earth sciences associated with mineralogy, accessible for learning."

Insight into the history of mineralogy in Brazil is key to this learning experience, and a notable exhibit recently launched by DNPM showcases the African contribution to the geosciences in Brazil. The exhibit sheds light on the important role of African slaves in the history of gold and diamond mining in Brazil. It includes a tribute to Brazilian mineralogist Jose Bonifacio de Andrada e Silva, who discovered the Afrizita (a variety of black tourmaline) and is said to have named it after his African slave Afrízio.

A naturalist and paleontologist committed to the conservation of fossiliferous sites at Crato and Santana do Cariri, State of Ceará, and at Uberaba, State of Minas Gerais, Campos has also helped to establish one of the most significant Brazilian fossil collections at the Museum. The Dinosaur Age exhibit features a collection of vertebrate fossils that lived in Brazil during the Era Mesozóica.  In celebration of its centenary, the Museum recently added an exhibition on the life of Llewellyn Ivor Price, one of the greatest Brazilian paleontologists. Price collected the Staurikosaurus, the first discovered dinosaur of Brazil.

Minerals, and the earth sciences are integrated in all aspects of life in Brazil – contributing to the country’s economy, unique landscapes and architecture. Rio’s famous Sugar Loaf, with its massive gneiss dome, is perhaps one of the most spectacular granite landscapes in the world.

"Brazil has a rich history in mineralogy, and an active scientific community," says Campos. "The Museum is dedicated to capturing, preserving and showcasing Brazil’s wealth of knowledge and discovery in the earth sciences." 


Aphrizite tourmaline

Aphrizite tourmaline specimen from Cantagalo, Rio de Janiero.
A donation from the collection of Eugenio Bourdot Dutra.

The Aphrizite (a variety of black tourmaline) is among the new species of minerals discovered by Brazilian statesman and mineralogist José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva. It is believed that he named the Aphrizite in honor of his African slave Afrizio. In their natural state tourmalines are characterized by parallel ridges (or striations) which run the length of the crystal.

Imperial Topaz
Imperial Topaz specimen from Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais. Imperial Topaz is perhaps the rarest variety of topaz, primarily found in the Ouro Preto mines of Minas Gerais, Brazil. The Imperial Topaz was named in honor of the Brazilian monarchy who prized its luxurious golden-sherry hues.
Rose Quartz
Rose Quartz specimen from Corcunda, Brazil. Rose quartz is one of the most desirable varieties of quartz. The pink to rose red color is unique and unlike any other pink mineral species. The color is caused by iron and titanium impurities. Brazil is the only source of true well formed crystals of rose quartz. So amazing are the rose quartz crystals that the first ones discovered were dismissed as fakes by mineralogists from around the world.