THE name Tutankhamun evokes images of gold and mysterious artifacts

from ancient Egypt unequalled in all our imaginations. But who was the

man who found that tomb and uttered the memorable words ''wonderful

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things,'' when his eyes first glimpsed it through a tiny hole? That is

the question the British Museum's exhibition Howard Carter: Before

Tutankhamun sets out to answer.

Do not expect to find the glories of King Tut's tomb in this

exhibition, though there is interesting film of the original tomb

opening. This exhibition is, rather, a eulogy of Carter's achievement as

an archaeologist and artist, inspite of Tutankhamun. An achievement more

remarkable then, because he was a man of humble birth and little formal

education.

His first break at the age of 17, was a job as artist recording tomb

paintings for the Egypt Exploration Fund in 1891. We see the letter from

a British Museum expert, suggesting that a ''non-gentleman'' would be

suitable, as his ''feeding'' could be arranged with other staff, the job

being unpaid, on an expenses-only basis.

Carter was a very accomplished watercolourist, trained by his father a

Norfolk wildlife artist, and we seen beautiful examples of his paintings

here, both as a recorder of arch-

aeological discoveries and as a painter of landscape, wildlife, and

scenes in the Egyptian bazaars, which earned him a hand-to-mouth living

for two years when he left the French archaeological service after a

fracas with some drunken French tourists.

But that led to his meeting Lord Carnarvon, who became both patron and

''a true friend'' and their joint Tutankhamun destiny began.

Carter's typescript record of the discovery of the tomb is here too,

but it reveals his original answer to Lord Carnarvon's question, ''Can

you see anything?'' on first looking into the tomb, was rather flat:

''There are some marvellous objects here.'' The quote was later improved

for posterity.

Carter's paintbox, his thermos, his letters home to mother, with

photos neatly pasted in the text, his diaries, and telegrams are all

here in the flesh.

In a section on ''The Curse,'' supposed to have been the cause of

early death for so many of those present at the opening of the tomb, we

see Lord Carnarvon's razor, which infected a mosquito bite, eventually

killing him, as proof of natural causes. ''All sane people should

dismiss such inventions with contempt,'' said Carter, whose well chosen

quotes are liberally scattered around the exhibition, which is also a

mine of documents of great interest, needing time to pore over.

But there are also many other ''wonderful things.'' Ancient Egyptian

artifacts, lent from all over the world, which passed through Carter's

hands, particularly in the years after Tutankhamun, when he concentrated

on buying antiquities for himself and for collectors and museums.

Among the most spectacular are a small group lent by the Metropolitan

Museum in New York, including a tiny amethyst turtle inlaid with spots

of torquoise, dating from almost 2000BC, and an exquisite gold statuette

of the god Amun, described as a masterpiece of Egyptian metalwork, which

Carter bought in 1917.

A graceful subtly coloured falcon in glass inlay of c350BC, tiny

jerboa mice in faience, c1970BC, a gold earring minutely inlaid -- these

are the visible testimony to Carter's feeling for ancient Egypt, which

from his boyhood, visiting Lord Amherst's collection in Norfolk, had

''first aroused my longing for that country.''

The exhibition runs till May 31, 1993.