London: Scientists have discovered world's only triple-barrel cannon inspired by the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci.

The bronze cannon, from the late 15th century, bears a striking resemblance to sketches drawn by the Renaissance artist, notably in Codex Atlanticus - the largest collection of his drawings and writing.

Mounted on a wooden carriage and wheels, it would have allowed a much more rapid rate of fire than traditional single-barrelled guns -- in a precursor to modern day machine guns, say the archaeologists.

Soldiers would have been able to fire three cannon balls instead of one. It was also lighter and more mobile than most cannon of the time, enabling troops to move it around the battlefield with comparative ease -- a precursor to much later artillery, a news daily reported.

It was found in the grounds of the 15th century Klicevica fortress, in a part of southern Croatia that had strong trading links with the Venetian Republic and that was on front line of defence against the invading Ottomon Turks.

"We think it was either made in Venice and brought here, or it may have been made locally," said Marin Curkovic, the director of a museum in the nearby town of Benkovac, where the cannon went on display this week.

"We cannot say with 100 per cent certainty that it was built to Leonardo da Vinci's designs but the resemblance to his sketches is remarkable. We think there is a very high probability that it was manufactured to his designs," he said.