Potosi silver mine, Bolivia, 17th century

Potosi silver mine, Bolivia, 17th century

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Credit: PAUL D STEWART/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption: Potosi silver mine, Bolivia, 19th-century illustration. The silver mine and mountain of Potosi was one of the world's largest silver deposits, providing the bulk of the silver used by Spain in the Spanish Empire of the New World. Silver Reales (pieces of eight) often came from here and were used worldwide. The town of Potosi was founded in 1545 and grew quickly, at once point having a population of over 200,000. Many indigenous people were killed mining there, through disease, fatigue and danger. Some were forced labour, others were wage-earning or contractual workers. African slaves were also brought to the site. This copperplate engraving ('Cerro de Potosi') was published by Petrus Bertius in his 'Tabularum Geographicarum Contractarum' (1600-1618). This image is based on contemporary depictions by Pedro de Lieca in his 'Chronica del Peru'.

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