Page last updated at 11:06 GMT, Thursday, 28 October 2010 12:06 UK
Burke and Hare masks on display
Burke and Hare masks
The life and death masks of Burke and Hare are on display at Inveraray Jail

A glimpse at the features of the notorious 19th Century serial killers Burke and Hare can be seen at Inveraray Jail in time for Halloween.

The death mask of William Burke and the life mask of William Hare were found in a store room at the museum last year along with a hangman's noose.

At least 16 people were murdered by the infamous pair who then sold their victims' corpses on to Edinburgh University's anatomy professor, Dr Robert Knox, for dissection.

Mystery surrounds reasons why the the macabre masks were stored at the jail.

'Exciting find'

Gavin Dick, prison governor for Inveraray Jail, said: "Unfortunately, we have never been able to find out how they came to be here at the jail. It may be due to a new 'science' called phrenology which was popular at that time.

Close up person behind bars in Inveraray Jail
Inveraray Jail Museum was the main Argyll prison in the 19th Century

"It was believed the shape and contours of a person's head could dictate their personality and 'experts' held talks across the country using casts of the heads of infamous criminals to illustrate their point.

"It was a very exciting find for us indeed. We are looking forward to sharing the fascinating artefacts with our visitors this weekend and plan to keep them on display going forward."

The pair were not grave-robbers but killed their victims to gain money from the anatomy department of Edinburgh University. Until the 1832 Anatomy Act the only legal source of corpses for anatomy departments were executed murderers.

Burke's death mask was made after his execution in 1829. It is thought that Hare's life mask was made during the trial. Hare escaped execution after giving evidence against Burke.

Hare was freed and it is thought he made his way to England or the US.

Death masks can be traced back at least to the time of Ancient Egypt with the gold mask of Tutankhamun preserving the features of the pharaoh who ruled Egypt from 1333BC.

Death masks were more commonly made of the ruling elite or famous people. Before the advent of photography it is thought the masks were used to preserve the features of the dead for their own sake or for the creation of portraits.

The popularity of phrenology in the 19th Century may also have played a part in why the masks of Burke and Hare were created.

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