Abstract Elemental concentrations of the trace elements Rb, Sr, Th, Pb, Zn, Cu, Ni, Cd and Sb, as well as Sr and Pb isotopic compositions, were determined on the labile fraction (called acid-extracted matter AEM, Négrel et al., Chem. Geol. 166 (2000) 271–85) of soil and sediment along two small rivers located in the centre of France, one flowing from basalt, the other one on granite–gneiss. Oxide–mineral form in AEM (i.e. Fe–Mn oxides), acts as the main carrier phase. Analysis of the relationships between the trace elements, and lead and strontium isotopes allows the origin of the elements (i.e. natural and anthropogenic) and their history, both in the sediment and soil from the small watersheds to be assessed. Lead-isotope compositions in AEM display large fluctuation in the two watersheds and show a large scatter between natural input (basalt and granite), atmospheric input from gasoline, and input from past mining activities. On the basaltic watershed, Pb and other trace elements like Sb deriving from past mining waste are mainly related to atmospheric origin, while on the granitic terrain Pb originates from mineralization. The Sr-isotope compositions of AEM, water and residues are similar in the watershed draining basalt. On the watershed draining granite, AEM and streamwater shows 87Sr/ 86Sr ratios similar in the upstream part of the watershed and a divergence between the two ratios appears in the downstream part of the watershed implying that oxides have precipitated upstream and are not re-equilibrated during their transport downstream.