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tales_introduction - -7 Editor's Introduction PotosI i f...

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- "-- --7 Editor's Introduction PotosI ICTURE, if you will, a graceful, conical moun- tain, dark red in color, rising some two thou- sand feet to a perfectly symmetrical peak, majestic in its domination of the horizon- a surrounding sea of broken peaks and crags. This is high country, the backbone of the Andes. The mountain appears to rise from the edge of an escarp- ment that slopes downward from east to west, following the lay of the land in its gradual but tortuous descent to far distant Pacific shores. The lower slopes of the mountain and its le~ser hills spill out over the escarpment,. forming a threshold that IS nearly fourteen thousand feet above sea level. The mountain is called PotosI, named by whom we do not know, nor are we certain of the language from which the name was derived. Some believe it to have been Quechua, others Aymara. The name could be one of those occasional out- rageous Spanish corruptions of a native word that defy analysis. Obviously we cannot be certain of its meaning. Spaniards argued the point in the sixteenth century, with one persistent tradition holding that it meant something like "high place." What distinguished Potosi, aside from its natural beauty, was the fact that it embraced one of the lar est erha s pchesi SI ver oges ever oundo~rth. All was hidden except :1or amassive outcroppmg orute three hundred feet long and thirteen feet wide-50 per cent pure silver-that had been uncovered by centuries of erosion. It appears likely the Incas knew of it; they were efficient in maintaining precise knowl- edge and control of the gold, silver, lead, copper, tin, and mercury deposits within their realms. Their silver mines of Ccolque Porco, about twenty miles from Potosi, but at a lower elevation, were well developed and very rich. Since their use of precious metals was essentially artistic and decorative, and gold and silver lacked the intrinsic value assigned to them by European cultures, the Incas were content to exploit the
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xii. Editor's Introduction more accessible deposits for the limited quantities they re- quired. Besides, Potosi was located well above timberline in the barren region the Indians called the puna ("the uninhabi- table") because of its thin and icy air. Altitude, awesome storms, freezing temperatures, and bitter winds were effective barriers to human habitation. Thus, the brooding silence' of the puna was broken mainly by the shrieking of winds and the snapping of frost-cracked rock, while the fabulous silver treasure of the High Place remained untouched as it had been for untold centuries. The S~nish conqueror Francisco Pizarro dethroned Atahuallpa, melnca, on 15 November 1532, assUlIirii'gSov- erelgnty at Cajamarca and founding Spanish Peru. Recogniz- ing the Europeans' obsession with silver and gold, and thinking to save his own life, Atahuallpa vowed to fill a room with treasure for the conqueror, a task requiring several months for completion. While the Inca raised his ransom, his captors followed to their origins the main trails over which silver and gold treasure appeared-one
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