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Celebrating 15 Years of AncientCraft!

It's been 15 years since AncientCraft was founded and it's grown beyond anything I had originally imagined. To celebrate this milestone, Em and I have spent some time reflecting on our highlights!



1. Must Farm Report Launch

We were honoured to be involved in the launch of the highly anticipated Must Farm report (2024). On the day of the launch, the two of us joined Mark Knight, Rachel Ballantyne, Chris Wakefield and the rest of Cambridge Archaeological Unit at The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research for a morning press release. With artefact replicas and authentic Late Bronze Age costume, we presented a mini Must Farm living history scene and were interviewed about our work as experimental archaeologists for ITV and BBC regional news broadcasts. In the evening we presented our work at the launch event that brought together the archaeologists, specialists and funding partners that had worked on the project to celebrate their accomplishment.


Must Farm is a well known site after huge media coverage around the world and excellent outreach by the CAU team. We have enjoyed working with the team and were delighted to have been asked to create artefact replicas and films for CAU and the new exhibition at Peterborough Museum.



2. Grimes Graves Visitors Center

The Neolithic flint mines in Thetford Forest are special to anyone with an interest in prehistory, but extra special to flintknappers and lithics lovers! 


With a new exhibition space in the visitor centre and entrance building over pit 1, the site reopened its doors to showcase the mines and its new displays. We were asked to supply a completely new assemblage of Neolithic and Bronze Age replicas for outreach events and display in the exhibition. A variety of films were also created by Emma showing how some of the replicas were made including the production of a Neolithic axe and felling a tree which features in the exhibition. As you go underground, a film projection plays to show how the flint was formed millions of years ago and what life might have been like in the mines during the Neolithic. James assisted with props and costume for the film as well as featuring himself!


James visited Grimes Graves for the first time as a young boy with his Dad many years ago, just as he was getting into prehistory. It's a site he considers close to his journey through to what AncientCraft is today.



3. Celebrating 10 years of Bryn Celli Ddu


This year, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of Cadw’s summer solstice event at Bryn Celli Ddu on Anglesey. It’s brilliant to look back and reflect on the last ten years and see how much the event has grown as a result of Ffion Reynold’s hard work and vision. Having attended every year since its inception, it’s a joy for AncientCraft to continue to share and nurture our longstanding partnerships.



4. New Scientist Live: Prehistory Zone

AncientCraft’s Prehistory Zone went from strength to strength in 2023, as we returned to New Scientist Live to display a range of prehistoric replicas and run flintknapping workshops alongside Dr. Chris Wakefield who joined us to showcase the incredible artefacts found Must Farm. AncientCraft has been a feature of the show since 2016 and it's incredible to look back and see how much our display and branding has evolved over time (thanks Em!). The show delivers high-impact engagement with visitors and the amount of people who have tried flintknapping there since the first event in 2016 must now be well over 1000.



5. British Museum: World of Stonehenge Exhibition

2022 marked the opening of the ‘World of Stonehenge Exhibition’ that brought together many famous prehistoric objects in the British Museum including the Nebra Sky disc, Bad Durrenberg shaman headdress and Shropshire Bulla among many others. We were delighted to be involved with the exhibition in several ways, including supplying the gift shop with replica artefacts and jewellery that complimented the collection, delivering a display for a private members evening and a public living history display on the front lawn of the museum which coincided with the start of the Festival of Archaeology.



6. BBC1: Attenborough and the Mammoth Graveyard

AncientCraft provided consultation, props and featured in reconstruction scenes for BBC1's 2021 documentary, presented by Sir David Attenborough & Prof. Ben Garrod. James and Em spent four days filming with the team in Scotland, capturing scenes showing hunting, butchery, cave-dwelling, James flintknapping and Em teaching her young Neanderthal daughter how to make stone tools. It was an unforgettable experience seeing the fire flickering from the cave in the valley and stomping across the Highlands, barefoot, on the hunt for Mammoths!



7. Becoming Dr. Dilley!

In 2020, James was thrilled to pass his PhD viva and become a Dr. of archaeology! James spent three years at the University of Southampton studying the hunting strategies of Homo sapiens in North-West Europe during the early Upper Palaeolithic. After his undergraduate and MA in archaeology, this third challenge would test James’s resolve but reward him with more dynamic thinking about the challenges people faced thousands of years ago. James can distinctly remember journeys to primary school telling his mum that he wanted to be a Dr. of archaeology after watching yet another episode of Time Team.



8. AncientCraft gains an Em

Many years after their days of secondary school together, AncientCraft gained another craftsperson. Emma Jones is an experienced photographer and videographer who has sailed across the world, capturing sailing regattas and events. Her background in media and design has helped to transform AncientCrafts branding and online presence and together we've worked on numerous educational and outreach projects to bring prehistory to life.


In tandem with her pre-existing skillset, Em is entering into her fifth year researching the world of ornamentation and jewellery in prehistory, which is a complex field of study that requires a wide knowledge of raw material sourcing and working in combination to archaeological finds and ethnographic accounts. One of her aims is to better understand how some of the very finely crafted pieces of jewellery from the past were created.



9. Usborne Publishing: Prehistory Consultation

In 2020, James was approached by Usborne Publishing to be the consultant on a new story book set 18,000 years ago in NW Europe. The story follows a young girl and her family to show what 24 hours of life might have been like for people in the time period we know as the Upper Palaeolithic. James worked with the author and illustrator to put together a story that showed as many aspects of life in the Stone Age as possible. The book was nominated for the 2022 Blue Peter Book Awards.



10. Brú na Bóinne Filming Project

The Neolithic chambered tombs of Knowth and Newgrange are world famous for their immense size and stunning rock art. A major update to the Brú na Bóinne visitor centre had been commissioned and in 2018 James was asked to help bring the Neolithic to life for future visitors through an in-gallery film. After gathering a team together made up of Graham Taylor, Sally-Ann Spence, Gareth Riseborough and Sally Pointer, they headed to Ireland to spend a couple of days filming a variety of scenes at University College Dublin’s roundhouse and on the Dowth Estate.



11. The British Museum Commission

On the 8th of November 2017, the Queen reopened the Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China and South Asia at The British Museum, a gallery she first unveiled 25 years ago in 1992. For the new exhibition, James was commissioned to make several replica tools for a new exhibition in the Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery, covering prehistory to the present day across China and South Asia (Room 33). My tools are located in the Early Societies: 1.5 million years ago - 1000 BC) area.



12. Dorling Kindersley: Prehistoric Consultation & Book Feature


In 2016, Dorling Kindersley (DK) Books commissioned AncientCraft to act as consultant and to provide "models", artefacts, props and materials for a new prehistoric book to be published. The objective was to create several high-resolution photos of my replica items, then further pictures of humans making fire and cordage, hunting and fishing, creating art and working with various materials including flint, animal hide and antler. James was joined for some of the filming at Berrycroft Hub by Josie Mills and Tabitha Paterson from UCL, who seemed to enjoy the experience of being "prehistoric models"!



13. BBC Coast: "Caves and Coves"

2015 was the year James made his debut on the BBC when Season 10 (Episode 6) of the BBC’s popular maritime series Coast premiered in the UK. During the episode "Caves and Coves", presenter Nick Crane meets the Jersey Heritage: Ice Age Island archaeologists investigating how Neanderthals used Jersey's caves for shelter, protection and as a first basic home. My role was to teach presenter Nick Crane how to flintknap and then demonstrate the ultra-sharp result by butchering a deer leg. As it turned out, this episode was also Nick’s favourite moment in the entire series.



14. Jersey Heritage: Ice Age Island Project

For four weeks in 2013, 2014 & 2015, James joined the Jersey Heritage Ice Age Island Project to provide flintknapping and living history displays. I was based between The Castle Green of Gory Castle (Mont Orgueil Castle), La Hougue Bie Museum and Petit Portelet in Jersey. The project was part of a three-year archaeological project, to explore Jersey’s landscape stretching back over a quarter of a million years. It was a fantastic month of interactions with visitors and to top it off, James was privileged to visit the museum stores to view some of the artefacts.



15. Meeting Sir David Attenborough

In AncientCrafts founding year, James was invited by the Cambridge Archaeology and Anthropology Museum to attend a lecture by Sir David Attenborough. After the lecture, James had the opportunity to speak to Sir David and present him with the flint hand-axe he had made for him.



 

AncientCraft’s success over the past 15 years wouldn’t have been possible without the help of a wide support network I’ve been grateful to have from an early age. A huge amount of gratitude is owed to a long list of people, but I want to say thank you to a few people in particular.


From taking me to far flung archaeological sites to help setting up the original AncientCraft website, I owe a great deal to my parents who have always been there to offer support and love. Much of my early inspiration to make things came from my Grandad’s encouragement, who worked as a cabinet maker. Although he passed away when I was still a child, many of his tools remain in frequent use at the AncientCraft workshop and his legacy lives on.


Archaeologist (and fellow Royston resident), Sylvia Beamon became my mentor in my early days as a young archaeologist. She taught me how to explore the past and to think critically about how the past is interpreted. Like Sylvia, Tony Blackman was a retired archaeologist who was hugely inspirational to me. After meeting Tony on a YAC trip to Trewortha Farm, Cornwall, his bronze casting demonstration opened the door of experimental archaeology and I’ve never looked back. Like his Grandad and Sylvia, Tony is very much missed, but fondly remembered.


Lastly, but by no means limited too, AncientCraft’s main goal of making prehistory accessible is mainly possible through Em’s work. The effort and skill Em puts into showcasing the work we do and supporting me in doing it is huge. We’re very grateful to be able to share our work together and to everyone that supports us in return.


Here’s to the next 5 years, wherever they may take us!


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