Basic Biographical Information
An Italian pathologist and paleoanthropologist, Antonio Ascenzi was born in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, on May 4, 1915. He gained his medical doctor’s degree from the Sapienza University of Rome in 1940. This was followed by qualification as a professor in pathology and histology in 1951 and another in anthropology in 1960. An educator at the universities of Rome and Pisa, he lectured in the fields of pathological anatomy, physical anthropology, and human paleontology (Massenti 1991). Ascenzi was appointed to the position of full professor at Rome University in the years 1968–1985. He was a member of the Superior Council for Public Education between 1966 and 1970. In addition, he accepted membership of the Commission for Auxiliary Sciences of Archaeology within the National Council for Research in 1966, of the international board for the research laboratory at the Calot Institute in 1970 and of the National Lincean Academy in 1987 (Massenti 1991; Giuffra et al. 2010). In 1973, he was appointed president of the Italian Institute of Human Paleontology, a post that he held for the rest of his life. During his career, Antonio Ascenzi received a number of important awards, including a gold medal for merits in the fields of education, culture, and art in 1984 (Massenti 1991; Ascenzi 2001). He died in his home at Albano Laziale on December 18, 2000.
Over the last century, Antonio Ascenzi has been one of the most prominent figures of Italian biological anthropology. He greatly contributed to the study of archaeological human remains by applying a wide range of scientific methods to their analyses, including light microscopy, electron microscopy, histology, histochemistry, and radiology (Giuffra et al. 2010). Among his paleoanthropological achievements, we can include the finding of an incomplete Neanderthal mandible in 1950 at Guattari cave and the study of additional hominid remains from Saccopastore, the Circeo cape, and Archi. In addition, he researched the traits of the noted Ceprano calvaria, currently considered an early stock of Homo heidelbergensis. This important specimen also revealed the presence of healed trauma and of a congenital malformation of the sphenoid sinus (Giuffra et al. 2010). Fascinated by paleopathology, the scientist contributed to the diffusion of this discipline in Italy and focused on the diagnosis of thalassemia in skeletal remains (Giuffra et al. 2010). Antonio Ascenzi was also interested in bone alterations and taphonomy and carried out experimental archaeology in order to shed light on postdepositional processes on the bone buried in the dirt or immersed in water (Giuffra et al. 2010). Last but not least, he was interested in mummified remains and headed investigations of the Uan Muhuggiag infant mummy from Libya, as well as those of the famous Grottarossa mummy, a rare example of Roman mummification (Aufderheide 2003). In this specific study, analyses revealed the presence of lines of arrested growth, osteopenia, anthracosis, and pleurisy, all of which are of paleopathological relevance (Cockburn et al. 1998). For all of these significant contributions, Ascenzi is considered the “father” of modern paleopathology and mummy studies in Italy (Fornaciari 2013).
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