efe-epaRio de Janeiro

The skull of Luzia, the most ancient human remains ever found in South America, has been discovered in the ruins of the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro, which had been Brazil's largest before it was destroyed by fire last Sept. 2 together with many of the 20 million items in its collection.

Discovery of the skull, which dates back some 12,000 years and was one of the gems of the National Museum, was confirmed by Claudia Rodrigues Carvalho, a researcher at the institution and a member of the team working to rescue the pieces that survived the flames.

The official said the skull was found a few days ago by rescue teams in a show window where it was more protected than other items on display, and that, despite some damage, it can largely be restored.

"Since the skull had been reconstructed, the glue used to put it back together melted and all its pieces came apart. Some were damaged by the fire and the heat, but most are in good condition," she said. "At first glance we identified close to 80 percent of the skull and believe we can recover more than that."

"Today we can say that Luzia is back and lives on. She wasn't consumed by the flames. She resisted," Rodrigues Carvalho added.

The skull was found in the state of Minas Gerais in 1974 and was that of a woman who died when she was between 20 and 25 years old.

For a long time she was the oldest human remains ever found in the Americas, though that distinction now belongs to one known as Eva de Naharon, who lived 13,000 years ago in what is today Mexican territory.

Together with a 5-ton meteorite found in 1784, the first dinosaur remains to be reassembled in Brazil, a group of Egyptian mummies purchased by Emperor Pedro I, and the collection of Greco-Roman art brought to Brazil by Empress Teresa Cristina, Luzia was one of the true gems of the National Museum.

The 200-year-old museum, the oldest in Brazil and with the most extensive heritage, was reduced to rubble last Sept. 2 by a blaze that destroyed at least 90 percent of its collection of some 20 million items.

The historic building, which initially served as Brazil's imperial palace, held what was considered the largest museum of its kind in Latin America and one of the five largest natural history museums in the world.