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The Norton Mound Group is one of the best preserved Hopewellian burial centers in the country and one of the most important archaeological sites in Michigan. The site represents a fine example of the northern extension of the Hopewell culture. When first excavated in 1874 by W. L. Coffinberry under the auspices of the Kent County Scientific Institute (now the Public Museum of Grand Rapids), the site consisted of 17 mounds ranging from 30 feet in diameter and 1.5 feet in height to 100 feet in diameter and 15 feet in height. Once part of a much more extensive system of over 30 mounds which were destroyed by the expansion of the City of Grand Rapids, only 11 retain their basic form.
Hopewell culture probably originated in Illinois sometime between 500 BC and 300 BC and spread to Ohio where it reached its fluorescence. From this Ohio and Illinois core, Hopewell influence was felt as far east as New York, as far south as Louisiana and northern Florida, and as far west as Kansas and Missouri. Sites in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota attest to a northward extension of the culture from the Illinois Valley around the time of Christ. The Norton Mound Group, as one of the best preserved and largest Hopewell sites in this northern area, serves as an illustration of this regional variant and was perhaps influential in the northward spread.