The Bridge River Project

The Bridge River Archaeological Project is a partnership between The Department of Anthropology, The University of Montana, and Xwísten, the Bridge River Indian Band (Lillooet, B.C.) to study the ancient history of the Bridge River Valley and the Middle Fraser Canyon in south-central British Columbia. The project seeks to understand the growth and abandonment of large aggregate villages with a particular focus on the Bridge River site. The research intends to contribute to a range of theoretical problems associated with village establishment and growth, demographic history, subsistence change, socio-political evolution, technological history, and Colonial entanglements.



The Bridge River Archaeological Project has been active since 2003. Earlier research emphasized development of a detailed history of the entire village consisting of 80 housepits ranging in size from approximately 10 to nearly 20 meters in diameter. The earlier studies determined that the village was first established about 1800 years ago and steadily grew in size until approximately 1000 years ago, at which time it was temporarily abandoned. The village was re-established during the past 400 years and was in use through the mid-19th century.

Current research is centered on an intensive archaeological excavation study of Housepit 54. Housepit 54 was built and occupied during the periods of about 1500-1000 years ago and again during the middle portion of the 19th century. During these times, occupants of the house accumulated, through generational re-flooring and re-roofing activities, a remarkable record of at least 15 superimposed clay floor deposits and 4-8 roofs (collapsed roof deposits that include burned timbers and associated sediments). Each floor represents a time capsule of life during a particular generation with well-preserved food remains (animal bones and plant materials), stone and bone tools, and cooking and storage features.

An additional excavation was conducted in 2012 at a small nearby village known as the S7istken site, focusing on a small housepit occupied shortly before the arrival of Europeans in the Middle Fraser Canyon. The site provides critical data on housepit socio-economic and political organization at the end of the pre-Colonial period.

All recovered artifacts and animal bones are analyzed at the archaeology lab at The University of Montana. Once analyses are completed these materials will be carefully prepared for curation at the Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, B.C. where they will be held in trust for the Bridge River Band.

Research Funding

The Bridge River Archaeological Project is currently funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (grants RZ-230366-15 and RZ-51287-11) and The University of Montana. Previous studies (2003-2004 and 2007-2010) were funded by the National Science Foundation (grants BCS-0313920 and BCS-0713013) and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Inc. The S7istken site project was funded by the National Science Foundation (grant BCS-1217480).