There are two places identified as such today: the Latin one, north of the historic center, and the Greek one, to the southeast. Both places, 500 meters away from each other, stand on the remains of the Byzantine monastic complexes, which in turn incorporated previous settlements into themselves. Thus, it is not as helpful to use the Bible or the ancient first-hand accounts of pilgrims to understand where the shepherds had camped.
St. Jerome (who died in Bethlehem in about 419) had already provided information on the place where the shepherds kept watch during the Holy Night, calling it Migdal Eder, or the tower of the flock. Jerome’s account suggests that in the fourth century, at the Shepherds’ Field, the place of the announcement brought by the angels, was venerated. Higher up from the current chapel, the remains of a tower have also been found, likely identifiable as the Migdal Eder.
Much later in 1858, in the valley between the rocky heights, an official of the French Embassy, Carlo Guarmani, discovered the remains of a monastery on the hill of Khirbat Siyar al-Ghanam (or the ruins of the sheep enclosure). He then began excavations and claimed to have found the three “shepherds’ tombs” mentioned by the pilgrim, Bishop Arculfo, around the year 680 at the church of the Shepherds’ Field. So, that should have been the authentic field. Between 1889 and 1906, the Franciscans succeeded in buying the land and carrying out archaeological research, but systematic excavations were carried out only in 1951-52 by Fr. Virgilio Corbo.
As a result, the ruins belong to a monastery built around 400 A.D. that was expanded and partially rebuilt in the sixth century and that survived until around the year 800. The main rooms, particularly the grottos, were used for agricultural activities. In the small room that served as a bread oven there were two invocations and two depictions of Golgotha, which unfortunately were not preserved. The church of the monastery, which was rebuilt twice, stood on the lower terrace, in the northeastern corner, in a rather hard-to-reach place.
It is however established that the hill was already inhabited and being exploited at the time of Jesus: in the grottos, Herodian ceramics and coins dating back to the time of the first Roman procurators and of the First Jewish war were found.