As many as 35,950 cannonballs have been dug out during an excavation at St Angelo Fort located on the Arabian Sea coast in the southern Indian state of Kerala, the Archaeological Survey of India has said. The hoard, which was found dumped in four pits, may be the largest ever reserve of cannonballs to be discovered in the world.

"We are not sure whether such a huge stock has ever been unearthed from anywhere in the world," the region's superintending archaeologist T Sreelakshmi of the ASI told the Times of India. He said the cannonballs may have been discarded for not to be reused.

St Angelo Fort was built by the Portuguese in 1505AD; the construction was completed two years later. The fort was captured by the Dutch in 1663 and then by the British in 1790 under whose possession it remained for more than 150 years until India's independence.

"The fort St Angelo is a composite feature of the Portuguese, Dutch and the English architecture right from the early 16t h century," a statement about the fort on the ASI's official website reads. Under all the regimes the fort served as an important military station for the purpose of defence on the west coast, it says.

Under the supervision of the ASI, the cannons that were used by the Portuguese and the British have been fixed in the bastions of the fort wall pointing towards the sea. The cannonballs unearthed at the fort's grounds could date back to either the reign of the Portuguese, the British, or even the Dutch, the archaeologists said. However, they said the dating process would take time.

"It is a long process to clean and chemically treat the cannonballs, which might take a few weeks, before which we would not be able to tell anything about the history," ASI archaeologist C Kumaran said.