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Dr. James

The Founder And Face of AncientCraft...

In 2009 James founded AncientCraft, dedicating its focus towards educating and reconnecting people to their prehistoric heritage. He strongly believes the most effective way to engage individuals and communities in prehistory is through the creation and delivery of interactive experiences, using quality replicas and experienced specialists.

 In 2009 AncientCraft was set up by James Dilley, an experimental archaeologist and craftsman, specialising in prehistoric technologies. Since AncientCraft was founded, James has gained a PhD in Archaeology at the University of Southampton and has worked with numerous museums, schools and heritage sites. His work is displayed at The British Museum and Stonehenge and he has worked with several high profile media companies such as the BBC, National Geographic, New Scientist and Dorling Kindersley Publishing.

   As a young boy, James would enjoy walks in local woodlands with his Grandfather (a retired cabinet maker), collecting sticks and stones. Fascinated by history in primary school, it wasn’t long before his exploration led him to the world of archaeology. While working as a farmhand at the age of 13, some artefacts were recovered from a field. They were discovered to be Roman pottery and tiles from a large villa site, along with several Bronze Age and Post-Medieval artefacts. After a visit to his local museum in Royston (Hertfordshire), James was taken under the wing of retired archaeologist Sylvia Beamon who became a mentor in the years that followed. 

   Growing up in an area with plenty of flint, James started experimenting with the prehistoric craft of flintknapping. At the age of 10 James started to attempt to make replica stone tools (with limited success for the first few years!). He joined the Young Archaeologist Club (YAC) in Cambridge, who helped nurture his passion and led him to meet the inspirational Tony Blackman on a YAC ‘holiday’ in Cornwall. That summer James was first introduced to a live demonstration of flintknapping, bronze casting, bone working and other forms of experimental archaeology.

By the time James was in secondary school, ready to sit his GCSE’s, he had already gained an A-Level qualification in Archaeology and AncientCraft had been founded to showcase his skills and document the sites he had visited. As AncientCraft grew, so did his expertise and it wasn’t long before museums, events and schools began to contact James, requesting demonstrations and replica objects. 

   James went on to complete a BSc in Archaeology, with a dissertation exploring the manufacturing process and use of Neolithic polished stone axes in Britain using experimental archaeology. This was followed by an MA, exploring experimental methods to investigate bone flintknapping hammers and hunting spears from the Lower Palaeolithic site of Schoningen (Germany). In 2020, he completed his PhD in Archaeology at the University of Southampton exploring Upper Palaeolithic hunting technology.

   In his spare time, James joins up with his reenactment group Britannia, of whom he has been a member since he was 14. The group delivers combat displays at events from several time periods including: Roman Gladiators, The Late Roman Army, 12th - 13th Knights and WW1. Instead of bashing rocks (with precision) to let off some steam, James finds bashing people with lumps of steel (with precision) just as effective. James also supports Arsenal Football Club, though his GP has recommended it is not good for his mental state. Comically, James enjoys listening to music from the rock and metal genres which, despite the genre’s names, is purely coincidental.

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