- UC Santa Cruz
- Visual Studies PhD
The famed silver mine of Potosí in the Viceroyalty of Peru became a site of heavy human intervention beginning in the late 16th century. The mining and processing of silver ore showcased early scientific processes that in some ways could be called alchemical practices engaging in the occult workings of nature, or 'natural magic'; attention to mysterious natural processes, shadowed by notions of the occult, thus coexisted with Spanish interest in creating profit and spreading Christianity. Alongside these existed Native indigenous religious practices, which in turn further blurred boundaries between supernatural and natural processes and invoked in the colonizer the Christian fear of 'demonic magic'. This paper sought to point out the ways the volatile terms 'magic' and 'alchemy' suggested themselves into the concrete project of silver extraction and the less measurable one of evangelization in colonial Potosí.
Image: From Cieza de Leon's Crónica del Peru. Cerro de Potosi. 1553. Woodcut, ink on paper. Image dimensions 11 cm. x 15 cm.