After Christopher Columbus discovered Americas in 1492, the exploration and conquest of the new world by Spanish and Portuguese empires was not only limited to the propagation of Christianity, the discovery of natural resources and avenues to gain quick wealth also motivated the Europeans to take control of the newly discovered land. The colonization of their new empires by Spaniards and Portuguese transformed the lives of indigenous people in ways unknown to them, destroying their cities and cultures through wars or by epidemic diseases and ruthlessly exploiting the natives as slaves. The Europeans also faced serious challenges because of land blockades by mountains and jungles, language barrier, native resistance and labor challenges. The discovery of gold and silver deposits in the Iberian New world attracted many entrepreneurs and aspiring businessmen to earn profits, power and glory. The mining of silver in Colonial Spanish America and gold mining in Colonial Portuguese America dominated the international commerce and economic markets of the world for many centuries. The factors that played key role in extraction, production and transportation of silver in Colonial Spanish America and gold in Colonial Portuguese America gives us an understanding of why and when silver monopolized the European markets and then later declined in value giving gold a boost to become a dominant method of exchange and how it impacted the lives of mine workers. .
The gold mining in Mexico began in 1490s during early exploration of America. As the colonial Spanish empire expanded, the deposits of gold found in Columbia, Ecuador and Chile between 1500 and 1650 was sent to Europe to satiate the royal treasuries. As the earlier sources of gold depleted and with the massive discovery of silver deposits in Zacatecas of Mexico and Potosi in Peru during the first century and a half following the conquest of America, Silver bullion monopolized the European and other world markets as the primary mode of exchange for next few centuries to come shipping over 16,000 tons of silver.