The majority of extant maps of the Cerro Rico were made in the second half of the eighteenth century. In addition to reflecting a newly flourishing cartographic culture in the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata, the repeated mapping of the silver mountain was the product of ongoing efforts to reform and rehabilitate Potosí’s mining operations and in particular to drive new adits (socavones) into the mountain. These, it was hoped, would restore the site to its former opulence by draining the lower mines and opening access to unworked silver deposits believed by many to exist at the base of the Cerro Rico.
In this presentation, I consider how maps were created and deployed in support of competing visions of how the mines could be rehabilitated. At the same time, I show how these Enlightenment-era cartographic images grew out of and perpetuated understandings and debates about the Cerro Rico that were already in evidence in the late sixteenth century. Just as the late Bourbon era brought new modes of thinking about geology and mineral formation, so too it witnessed the perpetuation and redeployment of older traditions of knowledge.
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