The Neolithic age in China can be traced back to about 10,000 BC. One of the defining traits of the Neolithic is agriculture. Agriculture in China developed gradually, with initial domestication of a few grains and animals gradually being expanded by the addition of many others over subsequent millennia.
The earliest evidence of cultivated rice, found by the Yangtze River, is carbon-dated to 8,000 years ago. Early evidence for proto-Chinese millet agriculture is radiocarbon-dated to about 7000 BC. Farming gave rise to the Jiahu culture (7000 to 5800 BC).
At Damaidi in Ningxia, 3,172 cliff carvings dating to 6000–5000 BC have been discovered, "featuring 8,453 individual characters such as the sun, moon, stars, gods and scenes of hunting or grazing". These pictographs are reputed to be similar to the earliest characters confirmed to be written Chinese. Chinese proto-writing existed in Jiahu around 7000 BC, Dadiwan from 5800 BC to 5400 BC, Damaidi around 6000 BC and Banpo dating from the 5th millennium BC.
With agriculture came increased population, the ability to store and redistribute crops, and the potential to support specialist craftsmen and administrators. The cultures of the middle and late Neolithic in the central Yellow River valley are known respectively as the Yangshao culture (5000 BC to 3000 BC) and the Longshan culture (3000 BC to 2000 BC). During the latter period domesticated cattle and sheep arrived from Western Asia. Wheat also arrived, but remained a minor crop.