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Athienou Archaeology Project Celebrates 25 Years

Professor of Classics Michael K. Toumazou is a familiar sight on campus, ambling with unhurried purpose under his trademark, wide-brimmed slouch hat.

Summertimes since 1990 he’s also been a familiar site in his native Cyprus, the eastern Mediterranean island nation where Toumazou’s Athienou Archaeological Project (AAP) this year celebrates its 25th anniversary.

Noni Papoui Papasianti, who volunteered with Toumazou’s crew in 2005, is now curator of the Kallinikeio Municipal Museum of Athienou. Established in 2009 and showcasing many of the project’s finds, it is the first of its kind in the country and during the past year welcomed 4,000 visitors, most of whom were enthusiastic local school children.

“Since I was a child I remember the tall man with his memorable hat and his American students joining us at local wedding receptions in Athienou,” she says. “Today as an adult I cannot imagine summer coming without our archaeologist friends here with us.”

Neither can Clay Cofer ’99, one of the dig’s assistant directors.

“I knew that I wanted to be a part of Davidson’s excavations at Athienou-Malloura from the moment that I first decided to attend Davidson, but I had no idea that the experience would change my life forever,” says Cofer. He recently completed his doctoral degree in classical archaeology at Bryn Mawr College, where Toumazou earned his doctorate.

AAP also employs Davidson alumni Derek Counts ’92 as associate director, Mackenzie Helgar ’12 as field supervisor and Dan Coslett ’05 as registrar and lab manager.

Coslett, now pursuing a doctorate in modern architectural history at the University of Washington, echoes oft-repeated sentiment in describing his seven summers in Cyprus as “wonderful experiences because Athienou now feels like a home abroad and the AAP core group like a second family.”

“It’s hard to think about the summer and not think about Davidson and Cyprus after all these years,” he adds.

Work that was expected to last for only three to five years in the hometown of Toumazou’s mother has expanded to 25, and the AAP is now thoroughly ‘entrenched’ in the village.

Relocating and borrowing materials and space, admittedly figuring a lot out as it went along, the project now enjoys use of the permanent municipal museum, an air-conditioned lab with storage and restored
traditional-style housing for students and staff.

The duration of the project and the significance of its work was unanticipated by Toumazou, who explains that the dig found more than expected: a larger sanctuary (which itself wasn’t anticipated), as well as a sustained interest on the part of Cypriots, Davidson students and faculty.

“The village has always made, and still makes, it so easy for us to come back,” says Toumazou.

“You [the project]are like the swallows that bring the spring,” appreciative locals tell him.


Increased professionalization of the AAP field school as a result of National Science Foundation funding since 1995 and strong community support have also contributed to the growth of the project. Much has changed in a quarter century, but “we’re still surprised every day out there,” says Toumazou of both archaeological finds and the town’s sustained generosity.

Diane Stirling, a Davidson classroom technology administrator, has been part of the AAP team from the beginning.

“Diane’s contribution to AAP’s success and longevity has been paramount,” Toumazou says. “Starting in the very first field season through the present, she has unstintingly and with genuine enthusiasm—and without any monetary compensation—worked both in the field at Athienou in most dig years as well as at Davidson during the academic year, handling finances and all sorts of logistical issues.”

Stirling remembers especially the early days, working-summer idylls before the Internet sliced and diced time differently around the globe.

“There was a different kind of closeness then, because it was just us, all there together,” she recalls.

Still, progress has its advantages.

“We now have wireless internet in the lab and in our main residential building, and we’re working toward getting it in the field so that data can be uploaded straight to our system from the trenches,” says Coslett. The use of mobile computer tablets, laser scanning and photogrammetry of the site today are things that staff say were unimaginable 25 years ago.

“Archaeology is changing,” says Counts, “and our project is participating in exciting progress in the field.”

Technology is in many ways driving the year-round work of the project, which has recently published on 3D imaging techniques and organized a National Endowment for the Humanities-funded two-day conference this past winter on the role of digital tools in excavations.

Counts, associate director, is professor of classical archaeology and chair of the art history department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“I suppose I have the distinction of being the only remaining crew member from AAP’s inaugural season in 1990—(along with Diane!)—a crew that MKT [Toumazou] fondly refers to as his ‘Mickey Mouse’ crew,” says Counts. Like other long-time project staff, he takes pride in bringing some of his own students on board now, as the project continues to welcome its next generation of participants.

In addition to running its for undergraduate students, with 19 enrolled for summer 2015, the project celebrated in Athienou in July. Amidst six weeks of excavation training, cultural history and methods lectures, and weekend fieldtrips, the project also hosted special site tours, a reunion BBQ and a town-wide event at the museum.

“This year we wish to remind people of our work, to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of our many project alumni, and to thank people here for their unfailing and generous support,” Toumazou says.

Project staff are thinking ahead toward the future of AAP.

“Having successfully completed so many major field campaigns and unearthed so much, we’ll be studying further and moving toward thorough publication of our findings,” Toumazou says.

Read about Davidson’s archaeological digs in the Yucatan and Italy.

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For more than a quarter century, Davidson faculty, students and alumni have returned to Cyprus to unearth the remnants of an ancient civilization and share camraderie with each other and the local population. More than an exciting and rare opportunity for undergraduate students, the Athienou dig has become a second home for all involved.


About Author

John Syme '85

Senior Writer John Syme graduated from Davidson with a French degree in 1985. After gigs in newspaper, advertising, translation in France and cross-country travel writing in the United States, he returned to alma mater in 2001. He has no immediate plans to graduate again.

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