My primary area of research is the Northwest Coast of North America. I study human-environment interactions at the landscape level by exploring the intersection of long-term settlement histories and environmental changes to understand how they influence and become entangled with each other, and how certain engagements with the landscape can be generative of new aspects of social organization. I am interested in studying shoreline change, broadly writ: both ‘naturally-' driven shoreline change resulting from shifting sea levels and other geomorphological processes, and ‘culturally-’ driven shoreline change resulting from human modifications of coastal landforms. Using geoarchaeological and geological methods, I reconstruct histories of post-glacial relative sea level change on the north Coast of British Columbia in order to survey for archaeological sites associated with paleoshorelines to understand how people occupied dynamic coastal landscapes with shifting shore elevations. I also study how the ancient inhabitants of the Northwest Coast themselves dramatically altered shoreline landforms through the deposition of vast amounts of shell and other cultural sediments to effectively construct idealized habitation places.
My current research with Dr. Dana Lepofsky and SFU Doctoral Student Spencer Greening explores these research questions at Laxgalts'ap (Old Town) in the Douglas Channel region of the territory of the Gitga'at First Nation, as part of Dr. Lepofsky's SSHRC-funded research project, 'Historical Ecology of Cultural Keystone Places on the Northwest Coast'.
In addition to my ongoing research in Tsimshian territories on the northern Northwest Coast I have conducted research on settlement patterns, mortuary archaeology, and thousands of tiny ground stone disc beads in the territory of the shíshálh First Nation on the Sunshine Coast in southern British Columbia. I have also worked for several years helping colleagues from the University of Toronto on a survey and excavation project focusing on early Neolithic sites in the wadis of northwest Jordan.
As well as my archaeological research I have a passion for Middle Eastern and Central Asian history, geopolitics, and food, and I have spent much time travelling and learning about the myriad of cultures in those regions.
Research Key Words: Northwest Coast Archaeology, geoarchaeology, landscape and settlement archaeology, coastal archaeology, human-environment interactions, paleoenvironmental reconstructions, relative sea level change, hunter-gatherer studies, shell-bearing sites, archaeological survey methods, diatoms, Middle Eastern and Central Asian history and geopolitics.
2017 PhD, Department of Anthropology, University of British Columbia
2011 MSc, Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto
2008 BA (Honours), Department of Anthropology, University of British Columbia
Letham, B., D. Lepofsky, and S. Greening. (2021). A post-glacial relative sea level curve for the central Douglas Channel area, British Columbia, Canada. Quaternary Science Reviews, 263, 106991.
Letham, B., A. Martindale, and K.M. Ames. (2020). Endowment, Investment, and the Transforming Coast: Long-Term Human-Environment Interactions and Territorial Proprietorship in the Prince Rupert Harbour, Canada. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 59, 101179.
Michael Toffolo, Morgan Ritchie, Ian Sellers, Jesse Morin, Natasha Lyons, Megan Caldwell, Rosa Maria Albert, Bryn Letham, Francesco Berna. (2019). Combustion features from short-lived intermittent occupation at a 1300-year-old Coast Salish rock shelter, British Columbia: the microstratigraphic data. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 23:646-661.
Letham, Bryn, and Gary Coupland. (2018). Ancient Mortuary Ritual and Cultural Resilience on the Northwest Coast of North America. In Hunter-Gatherer Adaptation and Resilience: A Bioarchaeological Perspective, edited by Daniel H. Temple and Christopher M. Stojanowski, pp. 227-252. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Letham, Bryn, Andrew Martindale, Nicholas Waber, and Kenneth M. Ames. (2018). Archaeological Survey of Dynamic Coastal Landscapes and Paleoshorelines: Locating Early Holocene Sites in the Prince Rupert Harbour Area, British Columbia, Canada. Journal of Field Archaeology 43(3):181-199, DOI: 10.1080/00934690.2018.1441575.
Letham, Bryn, Andrew Martindale, Kisha Supernant, Thomas J. Brown, Jerome S. Cybulski, and Kenneth M. Ames. (2017). Assessing the scale and pace of large shell-bearing site occupation in the Prince Rupert Harbour Area, British Columbia. The Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology, DOI: 10.1080/15564894.2017.1387621.
Martindale, Andrew, Katherine Patton, Susan Marsden, Angela Ruggles, David J.W. Archer, Bryn Letham, Duncan McLaren, T.J. Brown, and Kenneth M. Ames. (2017). The Role of Small Villages in Northern Tsimshian Territory from Oral and Archaeological Records. Journal of Social Archaeology 17(3):285-325.
Letham, Bryn, Andrew Martindale, Rebecca Macdonald, Eric Guiry, Jacob Jones, and Kenneth M. Ames. (2016). Postglacial Relative Sea-Level History of the Prince Rupert Harbour area, British Columbia, Canada. Quaternary Science Reviews 153:156-191.
Coupland, Gary, David Bilton, Terence Clark, Jerome S. Cybulski, Gay Frederick, Alyson Holland, Bryn Letham, and Gretchen Williams. (2016). A Wealth of Beads: Evidence for Material Wealth-Based Inequality in the Salish Sea Region, 4000-3500 Cal. B.P..American Antiquity 81(2): 294-315.
Bilton, David and Bryn Letham. (2016). The Sechelt Archaeology Project (2008-Present). The Midden 46(1&2):5-14.
Letham, Bryn, Andrew Martindale, Duncan McLaren, Thomas Brown, Kenneth M. Ames, David J.W. Archer, and Susan Marsden. 2015). Holocene Settlement History of the Dundas Islands Archipelago, Northern British Columbia. BC Studies 187: 51-85.
Letham, Bryn. (2014). Settlement and Shell-Bearing Site Diversity in the Sechelt Inlet System, British Columbia. Canadian Journal of Archaeology 38(1):280-328.
Martindale, Andrew and Bryn Letham. (2011). Causalities and Models within the Archaeological Construction of Political Order on the Northwest Coast of North America. In The Archaeology of Politics: The Materiality of Political Practice and Action in the Past, edited by P.G. Johansen and A.M. Bauer, pp. 323-353. Cambridge Scholars Press, Cambridge.
Martindale, Andrew, Bryn Letham, Duncan McLaren, David Archer, Meghan Burchell, and Bernd Schone. (2009). Subsurface Mapping of Shell Midden Components through Percussion Coring: Examples from the Dundas Islands.Journal of Archaeological Science. 36:1565-1575.