Abstract

Although Chile is less famous as a gold producer than either Peru or Mexico, it was discovered in the quest for gold, its exploration was financed by gold, and in 1810, on the eve of its independence, it was producing as much gold as Peru and Mexico combined.The ancient Chilean cultures made little use of gold, but during their brief domination of parts of Chile the Incas developed a number of mainly placer mines.Since the Spanish conquest, there have been four cyclic periods of gold output in Chile. The first was from the founding of Santiago in 1541 to the end of the sixteenth century, when a series of rich alluvial deposits, mainly in the south of the country, produced an estimated 1 to 2 metric tons of gold annually. By the end of this period, the Spaniards had been evicted from their mines and towns by the Mapuche Indians and gold production declined markedly. At this time, the only consistently sizable producer was the Andacollo district.A second period of rising gold production developed from about 1740 onward, largely based on vein mines, from which ore was milled in trapiches and recovered using mercury. Gold mining was encouraged by the establishment of a royal mint at Santiago in 1749, and it peaked at more than 3 metric tons around 1810. Considerable production appears to have come from Andacollo, but it was at this time that the Copiapo area sprang to prominence and other important new districts were discovered at Petorca, Alhue, and El Chivato. A decline set in as a result of the disturbances of the wars of independence, achieved in 1823.The nineteenth century was a time of political turmoil during which silver (e.g., at Chanarcillo), copper, and nitrate mining, and the attractions of the Californian and Australian gold rushes, lured away many of Chile's gold miners. The most important new gold mine was El Guanaco, which may have achieved an output of 2 metric tons per year. Copper and silver mines commonly generated appreciable by-product gold. In the far south of the country, gold was discovered in Tierra del Fuego and gave rise to a short-lived bucket-line dredging fleet.In 1933 the third cycle of gold production was triggered by the rise in the gold price. Few new districts of any significance were found, an exception being Sierra Overa, but many of the old hard-rock mines were reactivated using modern technology, including flotation and cyanidation. Production peaked at 11.5 metric tons in 1939 before declining to 2 metric tons in 1960. This level was maintained until the liberation of the gold price in 1971 ushered in the fourth, most spectacular, and ongoing surge in production.The El Bronce mine at Petorca was reactivated as a modern production unit, but the momentum of the present period comes from the discovery of a series of subvolcanic, mainly epithermal, gold deposits mostly located at elevations of more than 4,000 m in the Andean Cordillera. El Indio was the first discovery, achieving initial production in 1980. The application of low-cost open-pit mining and heap leaching technology stimulated development or redevelopment of Choquelimpie, El Hueso, Marte, La Coipa, El Tambo, Guanaco, and San Cristobal. Chile's gold production attained 21.6 metric tons in 1989 and will increase further based on committed projects.

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