Questioning Narratives of Decline in Archaeological Writing
Keywords:Cyrene, housing autonomy, Knossos, Late Antiquity, Late Bronze Age, reoccupation
Although ‘squatters’ have been identified in excavated contexts globally, it is unclear what this term actually means. In most archaeological publications, it seems to refer to the occupants of abandoned or destroyed buildings, especially those of the elite. ‘Squatting’, however, carries additional negative connotations which have been under-interrogated in the field. In this study, I explore the treatment of squatters in Anglophone archaeological writing, drawing upon two chronologically and geographically distinct examples: the Aegean Bronze Age and Late Roman North Africa. I argue that, in general, ‘squatters’ are identified uncritically and used as an index of cultural decline, with little consideration of the squatters—or reoccupants—themselves. Because ‘legitimacy’ of occupation is difficult to ascertain in archaeological contexts, I argue that this term is of little use in describing ancient reoccupation levels, particularly where they are distinguished only by their relative poverty. I suggest instead that an agency-centered assessment of impoverished architectural contexts is required.
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