Celebrating a True Classic: Prof. Mike Toumazou Hangs Up His Trademark Hat

Prof. Michael Toumazou sitting in a chair

Derek Counts ’92 first went to the island of Cyprus with Professor of Classics Michael Toumazou during the summer of 1990.

Toumazou and two other Davidson students had been affectionately dubbed the “Mickey Mouse Crew.” All these years later, Counts has no idea why his professor chose that name. What he does know is that that first dig set his life on a path. It wasn’t Toumazou’s first excavation, but it was the first one he directed and the first time he invited students along for the ride–and the learning. 

This month, Toumazou hangs up his trademark wide-brimmed Akubra hat after 35 years at Davidson College. His work in his beloved home country through the Athienou Archaeological Project (AAP), however, will continue. Counts serves alongside his teacher and mentor as the project’s associate director.

Toumazou arrived at Davidson in 1987 after earning degrees at Franklin and Marshall College, Loyola University of Chicago, and Bryn Mawr College. 

“I started at Davidson three months after defending my dissertation,” Toumazou said. “I never looked over my shoulder; I never even looked sideways. It’s been a wonderful experience, working with our students and our staff. The administration has been incredibly supportive of my project in Cyprus, and I can’t picture myself having been anywhere else.” 

The AAP focuses on the Athienou-Malloura site and surrounding valley in south-central Cyprus. Investigations have shone considerable light on the long-term history of the area, including the excavation of a sanctuary in 1892. 

Years ago, Professor Peter Krentz welcomed Toumazou to Davidson. They’ve shared a long tenure and friendship. 

“To understand why Mike has been such a successful teacher, you’ve got to understand his enthusiasm for all things Greek,” said Krentz. “Imagine My Big Fat Greek Wedding on steroids, and you’ve got Mike. He combines that enthusiasm with a real concern for people. He’s the most inefficient member of the department, because when anyone stops by his office, they get his undivided attention for as long as they want. As a result, students and colleagues feel the warm affection for Mike that was on such vivid display at the symposium.”

Michael Toumazou working in the field

Outside of Davidson, Toumazou worked and taught in Cyprus, Greece, where he introduced Davidson College students to the wonders of archeology and his home country.

Archeology & Inspiration

On Oct. 16, students, scholars and friends gathered on Davidson’s campus (and via Zoom) for a one-day symposium, “Thirty Years at Athienou: Celebrating Michael K. Toumazou and His Impact on Cypriot Archaeology.”  

Four former students and three colleagues made presentations. A fundraising campaign launched in his honor raised more than $130,000 for the Classics Department Endowment, with special focus on funding abroad experiences for students. A fitting purpose; besides Cyprus, Toumazou has led the department’s semester abroad program three times. 

“I came to Davidson thinking about going to law school, and I had no Latin or Greek background,” Counts said. “I fell into Classics primarily because I took a class with Toumazou. I enjoyed it. I did well. It was as much about his enthusiasm as it was about the class itself. So I started taking Greek art, Greek history—whatever I could to learn more.” 

The dig cemented his desire to study archaeology, and he became Toumazou’s work study student. That meant working in his office at all hours of the night, drinking Cokes from a mini-fridge to power through. 

“Mike was thinking about experiential learning before it became a buzzword,” Counts said. “The year after our Mickey Mouse Crew, there were 40-plus people traveling to Cyprus. It grew so quickly.”

The interest hasn’t slowed. What Toumazou first started as a “modest summertime archaeological dig” has inspired students and scholars alike. More than 400 undergraduate and graduate students, specialists and professional archaeologists have participated, coming from more than 100 North American and European institutions. The project has the full support of Cypriots, including members of Toumazou’s family and those who work there. 

He and his collaborators, including Counts, published a compilation of their findings titled Crossroads and Boundaries in 2011 and, most recently, Visualizing Votive Practice: Exploring Limestone and Terracotta Sculpture from Athienou-Malloura through 3D Models in 2020.

Today, Counts is a professor and chair of classical art and archaeology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His is one of many lives forever changed by walking into a class taught by Michael Toumazou, and one of many Davidson stories that started with the guy people recognize by his hat but love because of his commitment to teaching, learning and lasting relationships

If you are interested in making a donation to the Classics Department Endowment in Toumazou’s honor, visit www.davidson.edu/makeagift and denote the Classics Endowment in your selection.