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ATACAMA, a province of northern Chile, bounded N. and S.
respectively by the provinces of Antofagasta and Coquimbo, and
extending from the Pacific coast E. to the Argentine boundary
line. It has an area of 30,729 sq. m., lying in great part within
the Atacama desert region (see below), and a population (1902)
of 71,446. The silver and copper mines of the province are
numerous, some of them ranking among the most productive
known, but the majority are worked with limited capital and on
a small scale. The silver ore was first discovered in 1832 by a
shepherd at a place which bears his name, Juan Godoi. The
nitrate and borax deposits are extensive and productive, and
common salt is a natural product of large areas in the elevated
desert regions of the Andes. The exports include copper and
silver and their ores, nitrate of soda, borax, guano and other
minerals in small quantities. The capital, Copiapó (est. pop.
8991 in 1902), is situated on a small river of the same name 37 m.
from the coast and 51 m. south-east by rail from Caldera, the
principal port of this great mining district. Before 1842, when
guano began to attract notice as an exportable product, Atacama
was considered as Bolivian territory, and Coquimbo the extreme
northern province of Chile. In that year Chile decided to explore
the desert coast, and in 1843 that part of the desert extending
north to the 26th parallel was organized into the province of
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