Abandoned mine settlements in the hot and dry pampas in the north of Chile are silent witnesses of an important era of the country’s industrial history. In the basins between the coastal cordilleras and high cordilleras are the largest saltpetre fields in the world.
The industrial plants were called Oficinas and close to them originated small towns such as Humberstone in which lived the workers and their families. The workers were paid with coins that were only valid in the saltpetre town in which they laboured.
Saltpetre was used for the manufacture of gunpowder and explosive substances and later, also for fertiliser. Saltpetre was in much demand and the industry boomed until 1940. It was then that saltpetre was manufactured artificially. The towns were abandoned and fell into decay.
In 2005 Humberstone, together with Santa Laura, were appointed as World Heritage Sites as examples of human settlements linked to industrial complexes.
Oficina Humberstone and Oficina Santa Laura are the last abandoned mine settlements of the desert region of northern Chile, relics of a bygone industrial age that are well worth preserving.