New data on rare earth element (REE) concentrations and distribution patterns of columbite-tantalite minerals from Ta-ore provinces worldwide are presented. The REE geochemistry was studied by laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS). Five major types of chondrite-normalized REE distribution patterns are defined for columbite-group minerals (CGM) from lithiumcaesium-tantalum (LCT) pegmatites and rare-metal granites. Features to discriminate between the types include (1) the shape of the pattern (e.g. flat or concave), (2) calculated ratios between groups of the REE (e.g. heavy REEN/middle REEN), and (3) the presence and intensity of anomalies (e.g. Ce*, Eu*). Four pegmatites in central and southern Africa are used as case studies to discuss application of the types of REE patterns in individual deposits. The REE fractionation during progressive evolution of the melt in apegmatite body (either Nb → Taor Fe → Mn fractionation lines, or both) results in smaller heavy REEN/middle REEN ratios whereas replacement of primary CGM by secondary CGM produces modifications in the light REEN patterns and the heavy REEN/middle REEN ratios also. Critical features of REE patterns such as highly variable heavy REEN/middle REEN ratios or striking differences in the appearance of Eu anomalies are discussed considering structural data of the host minerals and the differentiation behaviour of the pegmatitic melt. In general, CGM from each individual Ta-ore province are characterized by a predominance of one type of REE distribution pattern. Consequently, these patterns are suitable for tracing the origin of tantalum ore concentrates (e.g. as a forensic tool).