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 Atacama.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)