University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Plantholt, Irene

Irene Plantholt
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
Elected: 2014

Irene had always been interested in the ancient world, and led by her fascination for Classics, she enrolled in the Ancient Cultures program at the Free University of Amsterdam in 2003. Here she was introduced to Assyriology, and soon thereafter she realized that her heart lay with the ancient Near East. She transferred to Leiden University to pursue a B.A. in Languages and Cultures of Mesopotamia and Anatolia, which she received in 2007. For her B.A. she focused on Late Bronze Age Mesopotamia, in particular Kassite Babylonia, and in her research thesis she analyzed the office of šandabakku of Nippur during the Kassite period through the study of administrative texts and letters. Although her research has a philological focus (she has studied Akkadian, Sumerian, Ugaritic, Hittite, and Biblical Hebrew), Irene has a strong interest in archaeology and material culture. She excavated at various sites in the Netherlands and worked as a square supervisor and examiner of Late Bronze Age ceramics at the excavation of Tell Sabi Abyad, Syria.

Irene continued her studies by pursuing a two-year research masters program in Middle Eastern studies at Leiden University, during which she spent a semester at the Altorientalistik department of the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. Her masters thesis is a study of medical practice in Kassite Babylonia based on a group of Kassite medical letters, housed at the Penn museum. In her thesis she provides new editions and analyses of these letters, some of which are unpublished. She received research grants from the Leiden University International Study Funds and the Catharine van Tussenbroek Funds to visit to the Penn museum for a study of these tablets. The results of her thesis have been presented at the Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale (2012) and ASOR (2013), and part of the thesis appeared in the article "A New Look at the Kassite Medical Letters, and an Edition of Šumu-libši Letter N 969" in Zeitschrift für Assyriologie (2014).

Irene graduated from Leiden University in 2010 and started the Ph.D. program in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania that same year. She continues to be interested in medicine, in particular how Mesopotamian medical experts perceive their domain, expertise, knowledge and role and how medicine and medical experts developed through time. She seeks to understand the latter in her dissertation, supervised by Grant Frame, Senior Fellow Steve Tinney, and Senior Fellow Richard Zettler. Her dissertation bears the title "Mesopotamian Healing Goddesses: A Diachronic Study of the Divine Representations of Medicine and Healing," by studying Mesopotamian healing goddesses. Because the qualities of medical experts are reflected in these goddesses, Irene decided to let them serve as a framework to conceptualize institutionalized healing and medical practice. 

Irene aims to build a bridge between Assyriology and other academic fields by conducting interdisciplinary research. For her dissertation she explores the disciplines of the history of medicine, (medical) anthropology and religious studies. This approach is also reflected in a variety of other research interests. Irene has presented papers at conferences in various disciplines, including the conference on Demons and Illness by the Centre for Medical History, University of Exeter, UK (2013) and the 2nd Annual Conference on Medicine and Religion at the University of Chicago (2013). She presented "Hounds of Hell - Why Black Dogs are Feared in Mesopotamia and Beyond," an interdisciplinary study of the fear of black dogs in many societies at the 224th meeting of the American Oriental Society in March of 2014.

Irene served as a graduate assistant for the NEH Royal Inscriptions of the Neo-Assyrian Period Project under supervision of Grant Frame and the NEH Bilinguals in Mesopotamian Scholarship Project under supervision of Steve Tinney. In addition to her dedication to research, she also has a passion for teaching. She was nominated for Penn Prize for Excellence in Teaching by Graduate Students (2013) and was a Graduate Fellow for Teaching Excellence in the Penn Center for Teaching and Learning in 2013–2014. 

 Print  Email