A pair of doors

©Victoria & Albert Museum, London, accession no. M.396-1924

Item i meianum factum de portis antiquis barratis inter dictum cellarium et stabulum dicte domus.

The object phase in an inventory is like a photograph that captures a given object at a very particular moment in its own life history. Occasionally, the compilers of inventories give us a glimpse of those life histories, as in instances where they chose to identify the place of origin of a ceramic bowl or commented on the age of a cartulary. From time to time, we even catch glimpses of the practice of reuse or recycling, which was ubiquitous in human societies lacking government-sponsored garbage-collection systems and the manufacturing of cheap throwaway products and packaging materials. As studied by archaeologists, patterns of reuse can take at least four different forms: the recycling of primary materials such as metal or wood; the repurposing of old or worn-out objects for new ends; the lateral cycling of objects in the second-hand market; and the symbolic re-appropriation of meaningful objects. If you look hard enough, you can catch glimpses of all these practices of reuse in household inventories. A characteristic instance is found in this featured object, which identifies a simple partition, made from old barred doors, that had been erected between the cellar and the stable of the decedent's home. Much of Marseille's old city was built on hilly terrain, so it is easy to imagine a situation where a cellar, dug into the ground, was on the same level as a stable for the animals. At some point in time, someone wanted to create or repair the partition between the two spaces. Rather than call in a mason to do the job properly or have a carpenter fashion something new and expensive, this individual simply took two or more old doors with iron fittings and erected them to create the barrier.