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Gold: The Scarcer Metal?

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Chapter Summary

This chapter begins with a question: was gold the scarcer metal? The answer, of course, is yes. Native Americans exploited gold and silver deposits long before Europeans came to the New World, using techniques in many ways similar to those adopted later by the Spaniards and Portuguese. Gold miners Native Americans, Spaniards, or Portuguese generally preferred placer over vein mining. Gold production in New Spain can be measured both in time and in space by treasury (caja) district. The conquest of Mexico, however, provided a new source of gold after 1521, followed a decade later in the 1530s by the conquests of Peru, Ecuador, and New Granada. Spanish entradas into these regions thus compensated for the steep drop in output in the Caribbean. Like Ecuador, Chile produced its modest share of New World gold.

Keywords: Caribbean; Chile; Ecuador; Gold miners; Granada; Mexico; New World gold; scarcer metal



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