The vast amounts of gold coming to Spain from the New World during the 16th,17th, and 18th centuries has inspired many a tales of lost treasure. The legend of lost gold of El Dorado somewhere in the Amazon jungle is one of the more famous. Although that one is probably fictional, the truth is that not only large amounts of gold but hordes of silver were extracted from silver mines in Mexico, Bolivia, and Peru. It has been estimated that over 80% of worldwide silver production during those centuries came from the New World.
When I read about the Spanish taking the silver and gold from the Americas I have wondered how they knew how to search for it. I knew early on in the 16th century they just stole it from the Aztecs and Incas. Sure they used the existing mines of the native Indians but they went on for another 300 years exploring and digging for precious metals. There are abandoned and lost mines stretching from the American Southwest to the southern tip of Chile in South America. I was curious where the Spanish learned this skill. A quick historical read on the internet revealed that Spain for over 1000 years had silver mining operations, long before their voyages to the New World. The Carthaginians’ exploited Spanish silver mines long before the time of Christ. They were replaced by the Romans who profited from Spain’s silver for hundreds of years.
It is estimated that almost 3 billion ounces of silver were brought back to Spain. I do not know exactly how much that would weigh but if we estimate 16 ounces in a pound it would be at least 200 million pounds of silver. 200 million pounds would be about 100,000 tons of silver. A bar of Spanish silver weighed about 80 pounds. If my math figures are anywhere near correct, about 25 bars of silver would weigh a ton. Some shipwrecks have been salvaged with hundreds of silver bars including gold and silver coins.
Historical records indicate that some of the Spanish ships from that era had cargoes carrying hundreds of silver bars not to mention coins. For example, the Spanish ship Atocha sank of the coast of Florida in 1622 with 900 bars of silver. It is estimated the ship carried 35 tons of silver as well as an unspecified amount of gold. It was located by the famed underwater treasure hunter Mel Fischer in the 1970’s. Millions worth of silver and gold were retrieved but it was not until the mid 1980’s that his salvage efforts for the Atocha found the biggest yields of lost treasure. There were thousands of lost ships during those centuries of Spanish conquest and acquired wealth. Obviously there are many yet to be found and salvaged.
I will never have the opportunity to be a deep sea treasure hunter, but it is sure fun to fantasize about, especially someone such as myself who has had the privilege to enjoy ocean scuba diving. I am not sure if Silverado is actually a word, but I believe it is a hybrid Spanish-English word meaning a place where silver is found. I included the following situation card among the 72 cards with the game TreasureTrove.
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