Experts with UNESCO say it could take years to restore Brazil's National Museum and the vast collections that were ravaged by a fire on September 2.
Jose Luiz Pedersoli, who works for International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, said that based on the experience of other countries it could take up to 10 years to restore just part of the collections.
Pedersoli is part of a group of specialists working with the United Nations' cultural agency that visited the remains of the museum. Group director Cristina Menegazzi said its members are studying how best to rescue the objects that survived the fire.
"I think that the expectation for the work of rescuing, digging ... we are talking about months or even years. In addition to that, we are talking about years related to cleaning, conservation, documentation and stabilisation," Pedersoli said.
"With the example of Germany when the Municipal Archive building (in Cologne) collapsed, our colleagues from Germany told us that 10 years after the event what they recovered" that was in a condition suitable for public display was just 20 per cent of the collection.
Brazilian officials have vowed to rebuild the National Museum in Rio. Countries including Germany, Italy, France, Canada and the United States have offered to help Brazil in the effort.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. The disaster led to recriminations that successive governments didn't sufficiently fund the museum, which was well known to be vulnerable to fire.
The museum's vice director said earlier that as much as 90 per cent of Latin America's largest collection of treasures might have been lost.
Its collections of about 20 million items include a skull called Luzia, which is among the oldest fossils ever found in the Americas. Other artefacts including Egyptian mummies, dinosaur skeletons and documents about the ancient tribes.
Australian Associated Press