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The Norton Mound Group is one of the best preserved Hopewellian ceremonial centers in the country. The site represents an example of the northern extension of the Hopewell culture into the Great Lakes region. When first excavated in 1874 by W. L. Coffinberry under the auspices of the Kent County Scientific Institute (now the Grand Rapids Public Museum), 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 today. The Norton Mounds continues to be a culturally significant site to Native American communities and is one of the most important archaeological sites in Michigan.
Hopewell culture originated in Illinois sometime around 500 B.C. 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 400 B.C. to A.D. 400. The Norton Mound Group serves as an illustration of this regional variant and was perhaps influential in the northward spread.