It is hard to think of somewhere more emblematic of how colonial commodity frontiers moved through the Americas, leaving social and ecological exhaustion in their wake, than Huancavelica. In 1563, a Spanish encomendero named Amador de Cabrera induced Indians northeast of Huamanga to reveal a local deposit of cinnabar, or llimpi—a scarlet ore that Andean elites collected as a ritual cosmetic but that when fired produces liquid mercury. Mercury is toxic but when amalgamated with other metals—like silver—allows the refining of lesser-quality ores. The Santa Bárbara mine opened, the urban center of Huancavelica grew to its north, and their mercury ensured that Potosí's silver continued to flow, keeping Philip II's global ambitions afloat. All that it cost was the lives or health of the Peruvian miners whose encounter with that mercury poisoned their bodies, their homes, and the surrounding landscape.

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