Piñita Physical Object

Accession Number
Creation Date
circa 1620
One of several small silver cones recovered from the wreck of the 1622 galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha. The function of these cones is ambiguous. Many of them bear Christian motifs, such as IHS, or pierced hearts, suggesting a religious function. But others are simpler, with repeating geometric or textural motifs. These cones, with hollow centers, are strikingly similar in shape to larger silver cones called piñas, the initial form of Andean silver immediately after the mercury used in the purification process was removed. Were these smaller cones designed to mimic the piñas, and reflect a central figure of South American silver mining? With the important role of silver piñas in the economy of the New World, perhaps these are nothing more than stylized representations of this most important product – and ones which just happened to make nice souvenirs.

Height 10.0 cm, base diameter 6.0 cm, top diameter 5.0 cm

Exhibition Label
Case Caption: SCIENCE OF SILVER The Inca used barter instead of money and exacted taxes in the form of required periods of labor, known as the mita. In 1571, silver production was revolutionized by the introduction of amalgamation, a process by which crushed silver ore was mixed with mercury and then separated. This increased the efficiency of the mines by 500%. Immediately, the Spanish needed more workers to complete the processing. They revived the mita, compelling Indigenous laborers to work in the mines. At Potosí, roughly 14,000 Indigenous men were required annually. An additional 3,500 men were sent to mine mercury at Huancavelica. Both mining and amalgamation were extremely dangerous. Countless workers perished until this system ended in 1821.
Object Caption: Pinitas Silver (c.1620) Gifts of Rose Chibbaro, Jamestown, Inc., Don Kincaid, Museum Acquisition Fund 1982.001.0001, 1986.008.0138, 1986.008.0140, 1986.008.0151, 1986.008.0608, 1986.008.0730, 1986.008.08780880, 1986.013.0004, 1987.013.0008 The purpose of these silver cones is not absolutely certain. They are made of very low-grade silver and the most likely explanation is that they were inexpensive souvenirs of the silver mines, made from run off from the purification process.