The subsistence practices of Yangshao people were varied. They cultivated millet extensively; some villages also cultivated wheat or rice. The exact nature of Yangshao agriculture -- small-scale slash-and-burn cultivation versus intensive agriculture in permanent fields, is currently matter of debate. However, Middle Yangshao settlements such as Jiangzhi contain raised floor buildings that may have been used for the storage of surplus grains. They kept such animals as pigs and dogs, as well as sheep, goats, and cattle, but much of their meat came from hunting and fishing. Their stone tools were polished and highly specialized. The Yangshao people may also have practiced an early form of .
The Yangshao culture is well-known for its painted pottery. Yangshao artisans created fine white, red, and black painted pottery with human facial, animal, and geometric designs. Unlike the later Longshan culture, the Yangshao culture did not use pottery wheels in pottery-making. Excavations found that children were buried in painted pottery jars.
The archaeological site of Banpo village, near Xi'an, is one of the best-known ditch-enclosed settlements of the Yangshao culture. Another major settlement called Jiangzhai was excavated out to its limits, and archaeologists found that it was completely surrounded by a ring-ditch. Both Banpo and Jiangzhai also yielded controversial incised marks on pottery which a few have interpreted as numerals or perhaps precursors to the Chinese script. However, such conclusions may be premature .
Among the numerous overlapping phases of the Yangshao culture, the most prominent phases, typified by differing styles of pottery, include:
* Banpo phase, approximately 4800 BC to 4200 BC, central plane
* Miaodigou phase, circa 4000 BC to 3000 BC, successor to Banpo
* phase, approximately 3300 BC to 2000 BC, in Gansu, Qinghai
* Banshan phase, approximately 2700 BC to 2300 BC, successor to Majiayao
* phase, approximately 2400 BC to 2000 BC