The distribution of rare earth elements (REE) in Europe has been investigated using new geochemical data prepared by the Forum of European Geological Surveys (FOREGS), to estimate baseline values and to identify anomalous levels attributable to anthropogenic sources. Interpolated maps showing REE distributions in subsoils were generated using ArcView™ and classified with the new concentration–area (CA) fractal method available in the software GeoDAS™; they identify three broad ranges for baseline REE levels that are related to regional geological/geomorphological features. A combination of REE spider diagrams and interpolated maps showing REE distributions in floodplain and stream sediments was used to investigate anthropogenic sources of REE in Europe. It is concluded that the large-scale distribution patterns of REE over Europe are entirely attributable to geology. No evidence has been found of REE contamination from likely anthropogenic sources such as the electronics or nuclear industry. Three component colour maps of REE ratios (Gd/Lu, Eu/Eu* and La/Y) were used to identify the major plates of the Variscan orogeny and Variscan granites caught up in Alpine nappes in Italy.