Squatters’ Rights

Questioning Narratives of Decline in Archaeological Writing


  • Rebecca Worsham Smith College




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.

Author Biography

Rebecca Worsham, Smith College

Rebecca Worsham is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Classical Languages and Literatures at Smith College. Her work focuses on the prehistoric Aegean, and particularly on the Middle Bronze Age and early Mycenaean periods. Her current project is an assessment of domestic architecture of this period, but she is also collaborating on the publication of new work at the Middle to Late Bronze Age site of Malthi in Messenia.


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How to Cite

Worsham, R. (2022). Squatters’ Rights: Questioning Narratives of Decline in Archaeological Writing. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, 34(2), 141–164. https://doi.org/10.1558/jma.21978