Provenance and tectonic history of the late Eocene-early Oligocene submarine fans and shelf deposits on Lemnos Island, NE Greece, were studied using sandstone framework composition, sedimentological data and sandstone and mudstone geochemistry. The resulting tectonic–sedimentological model is based on the late Eocene–early Oligocene Lemnos Island being in a forearc basin with the outer arc ridge as a major sediment source. Modal petrographic analysis of the studied sandstones shows that the source area comprises sedimentary, metamorphic and plutonic igneous rocks deposited in the studied area in a recycled orogenic environment. Moreover, within the above sediments, the minor occurrence of volcanic fragments suggests little or no influence of a volcanic source. Provenance results, based on major, trace and rare earth element (REE) data, suggest an active continental margin/continental island arc signature. All the samples are LREE, enriched relative to HREE, with a flat HREE pattern and positive Eu anomalies, suggesting that the processes of intracrustal differentiation (involving plagioclase fractionation) were not of great importance. Results derived from the multi-element diagrams also suggest an active margin character, and a mafic/ultramafic source rock composition, while the positive anomaly of Zr that can be attributed to a passive continental margin source, is most likely associated with reworking and sorting during sediment transfer. Palaeocurrents, with a NE–NNE direction, indicate a northeast flow, towards the location of the late Eocene–early Oligocene magmatic belt in the north-east Aegean region. Conglomerates are composed of chert, gneiss and igneous fragments, such as basalts and gabbros, suggesting this outer arc ridge as a likely source area. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.