Divers Hunt 270-Ton Bell Lost for Centuries in Myanmar River

Aug 14, 2014 10:25 AM EDT | Jordan Ecarma

More than 70 divers are plunging deep into waters near Myanmar to retrieve a 270-ton bell that may be the largest ever cast.

The bronze bell, which was created on the order of King Dhammazedi in 1476, has been resting under heavy silt at the confluence of three rivers for centuries, the Associated Press reported.

The project to resurface the historic object will take around 45 days and will be funded with about $200,000, most of which comes from donations, organizer Win Myint, 52, told the AP.  

The divers, 10 of whom are Myanmar "sea gypsies" renowned for being able to dive deep sans external breathing equipment, have made "exploratory" underwater trips during the last several days but haven't yet spotted the bell.

Known as the Dhammazedi Bell, the bronze treasure has been sought by both private and foreign groups for years and has remained difficult to retrieve due to the strong river currents and murky waters that obscure it.

After the bell was cast, it was donated to the Shwedagon pagoda, but it was stolen in the 1600s. Philip de Brito of Portugal took the bell only to let the treasure sink at the intersection of the three waters, where the Yangon and Bago rivers connect with the Pazundaung creek.

The team planned to dive again today, wearing goggles and attached to safety ropes. Buddhist monks have been praying for the divers' safety from a separate boat to bless the mission.

Myint, who is heading the expedition, has long dreamed of finding the 270-ton bronze bell and returning it to its rightful place in the Shwedagon pagoda, he told the AP.

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